McGuckin, Kanitra slam Murphy’s broken school funding formula

McGuckin, Kanitra slam Murphy’s broken school funding formula

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TRENTON, N.J. – There were no surprises for coastal Ocean and Monmouth school districts when the state released its school aid figures on Thursday. Every year for the last six years, many of the 17 districts represented by Assemblymen Greg McGuckin and Paul Kanitra have seen that aid slashed while watching it balloon in other districts.

“If you’re a kid in the suburbs in a Republican-leaning county, Governor Murphy and the state Department of Education don’t care about you getting a thorough and efficient education,” McGuckin (R-Ocean) said. “The fawning headlines after the governor’s budget address about his historic increases in school funding is a joke. Tell that to the kids in my towns now crammed into a classroom with 30-plus other students whose clubs or sports or tutoring got cut for lack of money.”

Overall, schools in Legislative District 10 have lost nearly $60 million or 46% in state aid since 2018, when the school funding formula known as S2 was established. How the state arrives at its figures has remained shrouded in mystery, despite six districts—including Brick and Toms River, which have each lost almost 60% of their state aid—suing the state for that formula. They won their case but have not received a full accounting from the state.

The Murphy administration has ignored calls for reform from Republican legislators, parents and school administrations.

“But the school administrators can grovel to the state for stabilization aid. To me that would imply the lack of regular state aid has destabilized the school’s budget. Thinking people would have that proverbial lightbulb go off: there’s a problem with the formula!” McGuckin added. “Not with Democrats.”

Meanwhile, the state’s largest school district, Newark, has seen its aid increase 67%, from $750 million in 2018 to $1.25 billion this year, $33,000 per student. The average cost per student was $19,164 for the 2022-23 school year, according to a report from the state Department of Education. In Newark, state aid comprises nearly 90% of the district’s total budget.

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“The Newark school system makes up one-fiftieth of New Jersey’s entire budget? That can’t be right, but it is true. If we took that district’s 2018 state aid but used its 2023 enrollment numbers, Newark still spent more per student than last year’s average,” Kanitra (R-Ocean) said. “For example, the total state aid my little borough receives wouldn’t even pay for 18 Newark City students.”

Despite New Jersey taxpayers footing the bill for Newark’s 66-school district, its test scores remain abysmal, with only 28.8% of students meeting or exceeding the state’s student learning assessments in English Language Arts in 2023. They performed worse in math, with 15.1% meeting or exceeding expectations. Despite those percentages, the district reports an 85.1% graduation rate.

Across the state, learning loss as a result of Murphy’s pandemic school closures, coupled with skyrocketing insurance costs school districts must cover, are pressing issues the legislature must address by abandoning the formula and adopting measures that fund schools to adequacy while delivering permanent property tax relief to residents and businesses, Kanitra said.

“The formula isn’t fair to suburban and rural students overall, and it’s absolutely unfair to students in my district,” Kanitra said. “It’s bragging about having a restored 1964 Ford Thunderbird with a shiny exterior and no engine. It’s broken.”