TRENTON, N.J. – When state Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet came before the Assembly budget committee Wednesday, New Jersey’s nation-high property taxes overshadowed the discussion.
“There is no doubt that we spend money on education in New Jersey,” Assemblyman John DiMaio told the commissioner. “If you add the local property tax share to the state’s proposed budget this year it is north of $30 billion. That’s a lot of money.”
DiMaio was concerned that that despite an additional $206 million allocated for state K-12 aid, the funding formula is still underfunded by approximately $1 billion. Of the $30.2 billion contributed to schools by taxpayers, $15.5 billion is from school taxes, which is 52.6 percent of property taxes paid statewide.
DiMaio contends that the cost of schools is overwhelming the middle-class, and the formula needs structural changes to become more efficient and affordable. Funding for New Jersey’s K-12 schools is one of the state’s most divisive issues, pitting district against district.
“We really have a structural problem with the formula and it’s affecting the middle class,” DiMaio said. “We need to figure out how to better deliver this at more efficient costs. And that time is coming, and it is coming soon.”
Repollet declined answering questions about teacher-pension costs, which are expected to increase by $323 million this year – taking money away from the funding formula.
“Pension and health benefit liabilities are crowding-out direct school aid,” Assemblyman John DiMaio, the Republican budget officer on the Assembly Budget committee told the commissioner.
Teacher’s pension and health benefits are funded by the income tax, which is the state funding source for schools. Any savings could be redirected to fully fund the SFRA. According to the education commissioner, he cannot determine how to increase funding for schools.
“I don’t think that the Department of Education has the sole authority to determine any types of money,” responded Repollet. “I don’t want to say that’s above my pay grade, but it is something that we can work on together.