Cape May Assembly members call on Murphy to adequately fund schools

Cape May Assembly members call on Murphy to adequately fund schools

Erik Simonsen

TRENTON, N.J. – Schools in Cape May County will lose another $5.6 million in state aid under the controversial school funding formula that purports to bring financial equity to New Jersey’s nearly 600 public school districts. Those cuts were announced at the same time last week that Gov. Phil Murphy touted his “historic” infusion of $832 million into his proposed $20.5 billion for public schools for special education programs and construction and maintenance projects.

Assemblymen Antwan McCllelan and Erik Simsonsen, who is an administrator in the Lower Cape May Regional School District, have argued against the current state funding formula under S2, the legislation that redistributed adjustment aid. That formula, a heavily guarded secret by the Murphy administration and state Department of Education, found itself the subject of a lawsuit, with a court deciding last January it must be released to six Ocean and Monmouth county school districts whose state aid was decimated under the formula. A March 3 news report said “the districts remain unsatisfied with what they have been provided in response,” from the governor and NJDOE.

Instead, both want to see the Assembly Republican plan to fully fund all state schools to constitutionally-mandated adequacy levels while also lowering property taxes. Assembly Republican Leader John DiMaio, flanked by New Jersey business leaders, released details of that plan during a press conference Feb. 22.

“I’ve seen this said elsewhere, but the existing formula is nothing but a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul scheme that delivers anything but funding equity. And it’s not just our students and staff who lose, but our already overburdened taxpayers who have to somehow make up for the aid shortfall,” Simsonsen (R-Cape May) said. “I’m calling on the governor and our colleagues across the aisle to stop playing politics, and do the right thing by all New Jerseyans. We can adequately fund all schools and deliver relief to businesses and homeowners.”

Property taxes increased by more than 2% last year, adding an average $206 to tax bills. Under the Republican proposal, the state would fund schools up to adequacy, while at the same time requiring lower property taxes equal to state aid increases to provide more equity in school funding. The average tax bill would be lowered by $620 under this plan.

Antwan McClellan

“To this day, the state has never provided fair funding for school districts or lowered property taxes,” McClellan (R-Cape May) said. “And the way the state is conducting business now, we never will. However, we can with this alternative.”

Cape May County is home to 18 schools, nine of which will see their state funding slashed for the FY24 school year. The most drastic cut this round will be felt by the Wildwood City School District, which is losing 53% of its state aid, from $4.1 million to $1.9 million.

“There is something systematically wrong with our funding formula if it cannot provide predictable funding as it is constitutionally required.  We were already scheduled to lose $1.2 million via the multiyear reductions within S2.  $2.1 million is almost double that figure, but in one year, and with no off ramp,” Wildwood City Schools Superintendent John K. Kummings said. “We are begging the state, legislature, and department of education to provide an immediate remedy as our budgets are due by March 20.”