TRENTON, N.J. – Assemblyman Ron Dancer’s bill reimbursing school districts for conducting regionalization feasibility studies was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday.
The legislation (A5537/S3488) offers incentives for districts to consolidate and removes legal barriers in an effort to improve educational quality and efficiency.
“New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the country and more than half of that goes to fund schools. We are one of the top states in school spending per pupil,” Dancer (R-Ocean) said. “Taxpayers need relief, and this may be one way to deliver that relief. This law encourages school districts to study the benefits of regionalization, specifically countywide and K-12 regional districts.”
The state has 564 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. Only New York, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C. spend more per pupil, according to EducationData.org.
The law 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.
“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.