New Jersey Republicans in Trenton are taking issue with Gov. Phil Murphy’s budget allocations for education across the state, arguing it would hamstring underfunded districts.
Their complaints were filed against a backdrop of record high spending in the overall budget, and a continued trend of cutting funding for education. Murphy has cut $25 million cumulatively since starting his time in office.
Particularly, the legislators took offense with the lack of resources allocated to districts contending with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic has had with learning.
“We will be recommending that change to your proposed budget, and in the course of budget hearings will identify savings to make this possible,” wrote State Sen. Steve Oroho (R-24), the ranking Republican on the State Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee.
West Milford, Jefferson Examples
State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-26) argued schools in both West Milford and Jefferson Township would be especially hard hit, losing a total of more than $5 million.
“These municipalities are handcuffed by Highlands Act rules that hinder growth, and the property tax cap that makes it impossible to make up for the lost state support,” he said. “These cuts will inevitably result in higher taxes, widespread layoffs of teachers and staff, and the loss of educational resources for students. This is no way to educate the next generation.”
Pennachio cited statistics indicating West Milford has lost more than $5 million in state support in three years, representing nearly 40% of its overall support. For Jefferson Township, the losses during the three-year period totaled $6 million, representing 35% of its overall budget.
District 24 Lawmakers Lament Lower Spending
State Sen. Oroho joined Assemblyman Parker Space and Assemblyman Hal Wirths in condemning the budget, arguing it would affect schools in District 24.
“How can Governor Murphy in good conscience ask our property taxpayers to pay even more to make up for these cuts while unemployment is up due to his shutdown, small businesses are permanently closing, and schools need extra money just to be open safely during the pandemic?” Space asked.
The district, which includes towns in Sussex, Warren, and Morris counties, is slated to lose about $7 million in state school aid under the budget.
“Reviewing the aid numbers for schools in our district, it is crystal clear that Trenton is nowhere close to meeting its obligations to the students and residents in this area,” said Assemblyman Wirths.
Fighting with Murphy
The lawmakers from the 24th legislative district commented that since Murphy has taken office in 2017, there has been an “assault” on school districts in Northwestern New Jersey.
“The governor likes to talk about ‘tax fairness,’ but there’s nothing fair about taking resources from one school district and giving it to another, increasing the local property tax burden, and not doing anything to cure the underlying problem of a flawed school funding formula,” stated Space.
Wirths added, “Time and time again, our taxpayers have been asked to pay more out of their own pockets to fund Gov. Murphy’s progressive agenda. It is completely unfair. Every child should have the same opportunity to get a great education, regardless of where they live.”
In 2018, Oroho, Space and Wirths voted against the changes to the school funding formula which resulted in the ensuing aid cuts. The funding cuts to local school districts when the formula change is fully phased in over the next three years will total $40 million less annually.
“We have been sounding the alarm for years about the dire need to fix New Jersey’s terribly flawed school funding formula,” Oroho said. “As I have consistently stated, any funding scenario that formularizes the Abbott mandates which translates into two-thirds of all state aid going to a handful of urban school districts will always be flawed no matter how you run numbers.”
“While I recognize that any formula driven aid will be significantly based on enrollment and school boards must manage for it, the reality is there are so many inherent flaws in the formula working against our local school districts that we come out on the losing end.”