Christie Proposes ‘Equal’ School Funding Formula

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

Gov. Chris Christie stepped on one of the fault lines of New Jersey politics by proposing a new school funding formula. For 30 years New Jersey has been sending extra aid to 31 Abbott or special needs or SDA districts, as they’re now called.

Christie said that system has gotten way out of whack and his formula would solve two fundamental and persistent problems — high property taxes and poor urban education.

“First we must fix the tax problem because that is the one that affects each and every New Jerseyan and threatens the future of the affordability of our state. I propose we do this by changing the school funding formula. I propose the fairness formula — equal funding for every child in New Jersey,” he said.

Christie’s formula would send $6,599 per pupil in state aid to every district in the state. That would increase state aid in 75 percent of the districts and reduce it in 25 percent.

“This will get mischaracterized in a bunch of ways, I can guarantee you. We are not talking about cutting aid $1. We are not talking about reducing aid that we sent to K-12 education $1 anywhere in the state. This is not a budget cutting proposal. This is a budget reallocation proposal based upon fairness to children and the families of this state,” he said.

With its extra aid, Christie said, a town like South Orange would receive 912 percent more money, while property taxes there would go down by $3,700.

Haddonfield would see aid up 1,705 percent, he said. Property taxes would go down $3,600.

Chatham, aid up more than 1,200 percent, taxes down $3,800.

Wood-Ridge aid 801 percent, property taxes down 1,800.

“All over the state we slay the dragon of property taxes by implementing the fairness formula. For the first time in anyone’s memory property taxes would be plummeting, not rising. And all through valuing each child and their hopes and dreams and potential the same,” Christie said.

Christie called the state Supreme Court’s Abbott decisions that led to the current scheme where poor schools get more aid unfair and obsolete.

“And think about it: the underpinnings of the Abbott decision in the Supreme Court was a fundamental inequity in funding. They’re right, but it’s in the wrong direction now. They have well over-corrected the problem while refusing both in the courts and our political institutions to deal with the underlying problem in our failing school districts which is we’re not teaching the children they need to be taught and we’re putting the comfort of adults ahead of the potential of children,” he said.

He said inner city schools should just copy the success of their charter schools.

“And I suspect that when we stop encouraging the idea that money equals achievement, when we start supporting the methods put in place by these charter schools in urban areas that are showing such extraordinary achievement at a fraction of the cost, that we can fix the urban education problem at the same time. Necessity is the mother of invention, everybody. If we get Asbury Park $33,000 a year to graduate 66 percent of their students they’re going to keep doing it. If we tell them that the charter school down the street graduates 89 percent of their students with half the money, maybe they might want to wander down the street and see how they’re doing it. Maybe we can break the special interests of the state out of the old orthodox. It’s up to us. I’m going to be the voice for this and I welcome as many people to this cause as are willing to join it. Seventy-five percent of the districts do better. It’s time for your voices to be heard. It’s been 30 years of a failed social experiment,” he said.

Republican legislative leaders were immediately on board.

“We’ve discussed this. We’re going to move immediately with a constitutional amendment and start to reduce property taxes in this state and start having an efficient education in both urban and suburban areas,” said Assemblyman Jon Bramnick.

“We all want our kids to achieve. Nobody wants a 66 percent graduation rate. So on one side you’re going to talk about the affordability side, and the other side you’re going to talk about achievement and accountability and together that’s a really powerful message,” said Sen. Tom Kean.

The two Democratic leaders put out statements condemning the governor’s plan and calling it unconstitutional.

Getting a new school funding formal through the Legislature and then the high court would appear, on its face, to be a very heavy lift. One of the governor’s aides said today was about throwing the first grenade into the room to get the discussion going.

Watch the entire announcement here.