By Senator Jennifer Beck
The biggest issue facing our state is property taxes. And the biggest impact on that issue is school taxes.
Over the next several weeks, a new plan for school funding will be debated in Trenton.
There aren’t a lot of details being provided on this plan or its methodology, but estimates suggest that it could end up costing Monmouth County schools over $100 million in state school aid.
This plan, if estimates are true, isn’t a fair or equitable solution to our school funding crisis.
New Jersey needs a fair, transparent and common sense plan to fund our public schools. With both the hard earned money of middle class property taxpayers and our children’s future hanging in the balance, nothing less should be acceptable.
We know the problems that exist under the current school funding program.
It’s led to municipalities like Jersey City, who has the tax base to support their local schools, to underfund them by $255 million – while pocketing over $418 million a year in state aid.
It’s led to New Jersey underfunding schools where student enrollment has exploded. In fact, state aid for our schools has remained essentially flat since the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) was enacted in 2008 leaving property taxpayers on the hook to pay more. For example, Freehold Borough is 527 students over capacity and Red Bank’s enrollment has grown by 267 in the last five years. But the State has not pulled its weight.
It’s led to a system where 421 school districts throughout the state overpay in property taxes to fund their schools. Property taxpayers are paying more than they need to because the state has failed to live up to their end of the deal. Right here in Ocean Township, local taxpayers are paying $8 million more in property taxes for their schools than they are required to by the state.
Any discussion of this new school funding plan must be fully transparent so that taxpayers, educators and our schools can engage in the conversation. It impacts us all.
So far the only information that is available about this new school funding proposal can be found at New Jerseyans for a Better Tomorrow https://www.nj4bt.com/nj-school-funding/.
This site is run by Senate President Steve Sweeney and it states “You can see how much more funding districts around the State would get under Steve’s plan”. It lists school districts that under his plan will get more money. What happens to those school districts that are not listed on the web site? Do they lose funding or keep what they have?
While I am grateful to see that some of our underfunded schools like Red Bank and Freehold Borough, would be among those that get more funding because they desperately need it, I also noted that his area seems to be getting quite a bit more than ours.
Politics can’t play any part of such an important process that impacts both our children’s education and our property taxes.
Best estimates about this plan suggest that Monmouth and Ocean Counties would lose $190 million in state aid for our schools.
And what about the taxpayers in school districts that are currently overpaying in property taxes for their schools? I object to eliminating State aid and driving property taxes even higher.
I will continue to work for a fairer school funding plan.
Let’s start the reform with the 46 school districts that are overfunded in state dollars. There are also a handful of outliers, like Jersey City, that don’t provide resources anywhere close to their Local Fair Share. That has to be corrected as well.
Then we immediately need to help those districts with exploding enrollments that are severely underfunded in state aid. Additional state aid must be sent to these districts to meet this increase in enrollment.
Lastly, overtime the state must also increase it’s funding to those districts that, right now, are over-paying in local property taxes. State dollars must supplement local property tax dollars for school funding to reduce the burden on local homeowners without jeopardizing the quality of their schools.
The current the conversation led by the Senator Sweeney about school funding reform suggests Ocean Township could lose roughly $2.5 million while Tinton Falls and Eatontown could each lose more than $1 million and leave Freehold Regional with a loss in excess of $11 million in State aid.
That is unacceptable. It is not fair to those schools, those students or local taxpayers. We must have a plan that will establish once and for all what the state’s commitment is to our schools and what should be a local districts fair share commitment.
Any school funding reform plan should be one where decisions aren’t based on politics, but rather are based on what is best for our students, parents, taxpayers and teachers.
For the days and weeks ahead, I encourage all to pay close attention; there is much at stake. I will do my best to post regular updates. Know that the process to alter school funding is underway and only partial information has been shared on this critical issue. We all deserve to know, vet and fully understand the methodology for whatever school funding plan is advanced.
Senator Jennifer Beck represents the 11th Legislative District in the New Jersey State Senate