Assembly passes Dancer bill creating grant program to study school district regionalization

Assembly passes Dancer bill creating grant program to study school district regionalization

Ron Dancer

TRENTON, N.J. – The Assembly passed a bill Monday that would allow school districts to be reimbursed for conducting regionalization feasibility studies.

The bill (A5537), first released with amendments from the Assembly Education Committee June 9, is sponsored by Assemblyman Ron Dancer.

“New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the country, and is one of the top states in school spending per pupil,” Dancer (R-Ocean) said. “Residents need relief, and this may be one way to deliver that relief. This bill encourages school districts to study the benefits of regionalization, specifically countywide and K-12 regional districts.”

The state has 565 municipalities and almost 600 school districts, at an average cost of $22,816 per pupil according to the N.J. Department of Education Taxpayers’ Guide to Education Spending 2020. The average property tax bill rose above $9,000 for the first time in 2020.

Only New York, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C. spend more per pupil, according to EducationData.org.

The bill creates a grant reimbursement program through the Department of Community Affairs. Participation is voluntary. Interested school districts that meet certain criteria would apply for grants; the department would front half the grant money and disburse the other half once the study is accepted by the department. Studies can range in price from $20,000 to $150,000.

Besides grants, the bill offers other financial incentives for regionalization, such as extending adjustment aid cuts from four to eight years for districts losing aid to due declining enrollment. Regionalizing school districts would also receive the greater state aid through the 2028-29 school year.

“Although we won’t know the exact savings until the studies are complete, we can see from other states that regional school districts do offer a savings to taxpayers,” Dancer said. “There are also educational benefits, such as curriculum coordination and more learning opportunities than may be currently possible in small districts with declining enrollment.”

If the feasibility studies find regionalization would segregate students based on race, socioeconomics, disabilities or English language learner status, or would increase expenditures and inefficiencies, the plan would be abandoned, Dancer added.

The Senate bill (S3488) was passed March 25. It now goes to the governor’s desk for his consideration.