With a main driver of property taxes in New Jersey stemming from schools, a bill to establish a grant program for school districts to study regionalization became law Jan. 18.
The bill, which was sponsored by State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-13) and Assemblyman Ron Dancer (R-12), establishes criteria for funding for these types of studies, and would bar any regionalization that would segregate students.
Additionally, the bill would protect accrued tenure and seniority, and provide financial incentives for districts losing state aid due to declining enrollment connected to regionalization.
O’Scanlon Strikes a Balance
O’Scanlon noted that consolidation was not a one-size-fits-all solution in New Jersey, but that certain districts had found both financial and educational benefits connected to merging.
“This does not force schools to consolidate, but it removes some of the impediments that can prevent districts from proceeding with plans that can benefit both taxpayers and students,” he said.
O’Scanlon noted consolidation could reduce the cost of education and delivery property tax savings, all while increasing educational opportunities and quality.
“For school districts to make informed decisions, feasibility studies are essential. The costs associated with these studies should not discourage districts from exploring options that could save taxpayer money in the future,” said the State Senator.
Savings on Property Taxes
Dancer argued the state had the highest property taxes in the nation, and that more than half of that was being invested into schools. The Assemblyman cited statistics from the Department of Education showing that it cost, on average, $22,816 per pupil per year to educate a student in 2020, according to a report issued by the agency.
Only New York, Connecticut, and Washington DC spent more per pupil, according to EducationData.org.
“Taxpayers need relief, and this may be one way to deliver that relief. This law encourages school districts to study the benefits of regionalization, specifically countywide and K-12 regional districts,” he said.
“Although we won’t know the exact savings until the studies are complete, we can see from other states that regional school districts do offer a savings to taxpayers,” Dancer said. “There are also educational benefits, such as curriculum coordination and more learning opportunities than may be currently possible in small districts with declining enrollment.”