It is hard to understand the formula that provides state aid to our kid’s schools and the resulting vastly different property taxes in our respective municipalities. The New Jersey Constitution mandates that students be provided a “thorough and efficient” education. That phrase has been thrown around conveniently in defense of an inequitable system that is too expensive to fund with results that scream failure. New Jersey needs to fairly fund children’s education, and taxpayers need real property tax relief.
The Current System Doesn’t Provide A Thorough and Efficient Education. The current formula prioritizes 31 school districts over the rest, called SDA districts. Those districts, only 5 percent of the state total, receive 56 percent of state education aid and have consistently underperformed despite receiving $97 billion over the past thirty years. After three decades of major spending to support those districts, graduation rates and test scores have barely budged, and the achievement gap is still huge.
• Since the 2001-02 school year, the disparity in high school scores for state tests between the 31 SDA and other districts remained between 13 to 30 points for English-language arts and 14 to 33 points for math.
• Between 2010 and 2015, graduation rates in non-SDA districts ranged from 86 to 93 percent, compared to only 69 to 77 percent in SDA districts.
More Funding Doesn’t Mean Better Education. Pascack Valley Regional High School District is rated the eighth best district in New Jersey with a graduation rate of 98 percent, while receiving only $550 per student from the state. The average property tax in Bergen County is well over $11,000. Camden High School has the lowest graduation rate at 46 percent and yet receives over $30,000 per student. The average property tax in Camden County is only slightly over $6,000.
Fully Funding The Current System Without Reforms Creates More Problems. One major reason the 2008 Corzine school funding plan failed was a lack of resources. When the Democrats propose fully funding the 2008 formula, they are talking about an almost $900 million cost to taxpayers. Since the state does not have $900 million in extra funds, the Democrat’s plan would require a large income tax increase and likely other tax increases or massive program cuts to fund school districts. In other words, the state would raise your income taxes in an attempt to lower your property taxes. That’s been tried over and over again and failed.
Equal Per Pupil Funding Is The Fairest Solution. Under the Republican-proposed fairness formula, state aid would be $6,599 per pupil with additional funding provided for students with special needs. No student is worth less than another. When schools are funded on an equal per pupil basis, taxpayers and students benefit. Education funding will increase for three-quarters of districts while average property tax bills are reduced by as much as $2,000 or more.
The state has thrown billions of dollars at underperforming districts for years and the situation hasn’t improved. It’s time that we face reality and provide fair funding for every student in the state and stop strangling taxpayers to fund failure.