In his final budget address on Feb. 28, 2017, Gov. Christie outlined his latest school funding scheme. New Jersey public schools are essentially flat funded once again, except for charter schools. The governor’s budget contains special additional money to ensure that charter schools with rising enrollment will have their per-pupil funding protected. Traditional public schools with rising enrollments will not get any additional funding.

Gov. Christie’s divisive tactic pits charter schools against traditional schools as they struggle to deal with years of underfunding.

State repeatedly fails to fund SFRA

In 2008, Republicans and Democrats came together to pass the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA). That funding formula had bipartisan support, and was the product of informed input from education stakeholder groups and upheld by the New Jersey Supreme Court.

After its initial implementation in 2009, Christie and the Legislature have underfunded SFRA by approximately $1 billion each year. This refusal to appropriately fund the formula has led to gross inequities in school aid.

In the event of a budget shortfall, SFRA has mechanisms in the formula for equitable allocation of state aid in accord with the formula funds, but the govenor ignored that. Instead of following the law, he has shortchanged public education and is calling for a re-examination of every aspect of the SFRA.

The governor is shortchanging our students.It’s time to make all students a priority, wherever they live and whatever their needs and circumstances.

Governor and Sweeney offer lackluster alternatives

In the fall, the governor was promoting his so-called “Fairness Formula” which would further reduce aid to about 414,000 schoolchildren by over $3 billion. That’s an average of over $7,000 per pupil for one out of every three New Jersey public school students.

Senate President Steve Sweeney is also calling for changes to SFRA, which would reduce aid to about 715,000 students by almost $685 million, or around $960 per pupil on average.

NJEA has consistently supported the current school funding formula, and believes that considering New Jersey’s history with school funding, a formula that was agreed to by both houses of the Legislature and signed into law after extensive discussions with, and input from, education experts and stakeholders and upheld as constitutional by the New Jersey Supreme Court, should be followed each year.

NJEA supports full funding of SFRA

NJEA supports the proposal by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto to gather the appropriate stakeholders to develop a plan to transition back to the current funding formula. In addition, NJEA has called for that group to study the funding mechanism for charter schools, as the current mechanism is causing drastic program cuts in the districts from which charters draw their students.

A report from September 2016 by the State Auditor concluded that if the funding formula was used to allocate school aid in FY 2016 without adding even $1 dollar to the direct aid appropriation, 365 school districts would’ve received more school aid than they did under the Fiscal Year 2016 Budget. NJEA believes that the governor is shortchanging our students and that it’s time to make all students a priority, wherever they live and whatever their needs and circumstances.

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