Superintendents, education officials support Republican plan to fully fund schools and cut property taxes

Superintendents, education officials support Republican plan to fully fund schools and cut property taxes

TRENTON, N.J. – Facing more than $105 million in state aid cuts under Gov. Phil Murphy’s budget proposal, superintendents and school officials across New Jersey are supporting increased state aid under Assembly Republican Leader John DiMaio’s plan to fully fund schools and cut property taxes.

“Fairly funding schools means every school district in this state is able to meet its constitutional duty and provide the high-quality education that New Jersey prides itself on. It means students don’t lose services or programs and teachers don’t lose jobs,” DiMaio (R-Warren) said. “Gov. Murphy’s proposed budget picks winners and losers, while my plan only cuts property taxes, not schools.”

The Fully Funding Schools and Cutting Property Taxes Act (A1125) funds schools up to their adequacy budget, protects schools from state aid losses, and leads to property tax cuts. The adequacy budget is the minimum amount necessary under the school funding formula to provide a thorough and efficient education, calculated by adding how much a district should be able to afford and state equalization aid – the current state target for school funding.

“We cannot emphasize enough the urgency surrounding school funding. It’s imperative that school leaders have access to a predictable funding formula that adequately addresses both current needs and those that will arise in the future across all districts,” Lenape Regional High School District Superintendent Carol Birnbohm said. “Assemblyman DiMaio’s proposed bill offers a promising solution, potentially allocating over $9 million in state aid to our district. This stands in stark contrast to the looming loss of $4.7 million we’re currently facing. I urge all of our elected officials to engage in genuine dialogue to resolve this pressing issue. Education funding should be a non-negotiable priority for our state, reflecting our collective commitment to nurturing our educational system.”

In 2018, the state enacted S2, promising a fairer distribution of public school aid, but hundreds of so-called overfunded school districts have suffered unpredictable cuts by millions of dollars each year.

“Since the state funding formula emphasizes an adequacy budget, the formula should start with that goal in mind,” said Brick School District Superintendent Thomas Farrell. “The state fails to provide the necessary funds to ensure that our district has the necessary resources to meet the needs of our students. Some districts, such as Brick, are simply running out of time. We need to save these districts from falling off the financial cliff. The time is now for us to advocate for our efficient and effective school districts left behind from S2.”

While the S2 law has increased Newark schools state aid by hundreds of millions to over $1.25 billion, other districts like Toms River lost about $38 million in state aid during the seven-year phase-in of S2.

“Toms River Regional School district certainly believes that the state school aid formula is fatally flawed for too many districts,” said Toms River School District Superintendent Michael Citta and Business Administrator Bill Doering. “The formula needs to be significantly revamped and state aid funding losses need to be addressed immediately, before irreparable harm is done to the students these districts are entrusted to educate. Assembly bill A1125 would restore critical funding, but more than that, it would be a great segue to the long-overdue study of the state school aid formula.”

Under DiMaio’s plan, no school would see less than what is being proposed in Murphy’s budget and 340 schools would receive more. Additionally, the average property tax cut in the first year would be $874.

“Jefferson Township’s school budget shortfall for the upcoming school year exceeds $3 million, despite six years of cost-cutting measures including staff reductions, school closures, fee implementation, and insurance plan adjustments. Even after exhausting grant opportunities and depleting reserve accounts, the loss of state aid remains crippling, totaling over $11 million annually and accumulating to $45 million in seven years,” Jefferson Township Public Schools Superintendent Jeanne Howe said. “While a comprehensive review of the funding formula and related legislation will take time, immediate relief for school districts may include funding special education based on a district’s actual enrollment rather than the state average, increasing the base per-pupil cost, increasing the amount provided for extraordinary aid, and providing impact aid to districts affected by the Highlands and Pinelands Acts.”

Murphy is touting a $908 million increase in state school aid in this year’s budget, but that goes to just 20% of school districts. Funding for the other 50% of schools receiving increases comes from the districts suffering cuts. When considering the one-time supplemental aid provided to schools by the legislature last year, 172 schools will lose $197 million in funding.

“Our school district is an S2 district that has lost 66% of its state aid – an unsustainable amount that overburdens the taxpayers of Weymouth Township. Our district has had to cut staff, programs, and make difficult decisions due to the financial constraints levied through S2,” said Weymouth Township School District Superintendent Al Lewis. “Assemblyman DiMaio’s proposed bill, A1125, would allocate a fair amount of aid to Weymouth Township, ensuring that our district will be fully-staffed, well-maintained, and able to continue to offer thriving educational programs to our community’s most treasured resource, the children of Weymouth Township. As our Board’s Vice-President Constance Anne Reymann has said many times, ‘School funding should be a nonpartisan issue.’”

The bill, which has been referred to the Assembly Education Committee, utilizes the income tax for its court-ruled and constitutional purposes – school funding. It changes the state’s education priorities from discretionary to obligatory.

“Many states, including New Jersey, have grappled with the issue of school funding and how to distribute resources equitably among districts with varying income levels. The concept of aligning funding with a district’s ability to pay based on its income level is an important consideration in creating a fair and sustainable funding model. The larger issue will be filling the $1.2 billion gap when putting the responsibility of school aid away from local municipalities and onto the state of New Jersey. The issue of maintaining adequacy for all school districts is and should be a non-negotiable,” said Millville Public Schools Superintendent Tony Trongone, who also serves as the president of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators.

Under DiMaio’s plan, districts that have faced funding cuts will get all of it returned to rehire teachers and staff, implement programs and address learning loss and student mental health.

“The Lacey Township School District has already made $6.5 million in reductions that has significantly impacted all of our students. Reducing an additional $6.9 million forces us to reduce an additional 57 staff members across all categories,” Lacey Township School District Superintendent Vanessa R. Pereira said. “This past school year has been particularly challenging in Lacey because we tragically lost three students in our senior class. And just recently, we lost a fourth student at our middle school due to a tragic event and a third grader who died suddenly from complications related to the flu. It is unthinkable to lose one student, let alone five. This has created a much higher need for counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists. Sadly, we are forced to reduce staff in this area. The students and staff of the Lacey Township School District deserve better!”

DiMaio’s plan also protects schools from a future recession by lowering property taxes, which allows a school district to bank more of their property tax cap to replace state aid if necessary.

“For the Bordentown Regional School District, the most prominent aspect of funding our programs are the unbudgeted costs of serving our special education students. In one year, we have had a number of students who require extensive special education supports, including individual nursing and out-of-district placements to serve their needs. These unanticipated costs cripple a smaller school district quickly. I am hopeful for bipartisan support to adjust the support for all of our students but especially for our students who need special education services,” said Bordentown Superintendent Trudy A. Atkins.

Total cost for DiMaio’s plan is about $1.3 billion, or as much as Democrat’s StayNJ property tax relief program targeting seniors.

“Murphy’s budget seriously harms thousands of New Jersey schoolchildren and property taxpayers. It is unconscionable,” DiMaio said. “It shouldn’t matter that this is a Republican proposal. As soon as my colleagues across the aisle can put kids above politics, we can pass this legislation and every student and every taxpayer will be better for it.”