Bipartisan legislation looking to reform a major component of a North Jersey homeowners tax bill was passed unanimously by the State Senate on Feb. 14.
Sponsored by State Senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho (R-24) and State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-11), S-354 would establish the School Funding Formula Evaluation Task Force to evaluate the state’s financial education support.
Oroho noted school funding is a driving factor in the property tax bill that Garden State residents pay. The task force being proposed would study the effectiveness of the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA) and provide recommendations for improvements.
“The state’s dubious funding formula controls the purse strings for school aid,” said Oroho (R-24). “The task force’s evaluation will help identify flaws and inconsistencies that contribute to funding imbalances. This will be an important step in improving the way taxpayer money is expended for education.”
Under the bipartisan bill, the task force will be directed to evaluate how school district adequacy budgets and local shares are determined; the methodology for measuring and weighing at-risk students with limited English proficiency; amd the weights applied to students in varying grade levels, as well as those applied to students enrolled in county vocational districts among other considerations.
“We need to make sure that New Jersey’s schools are the best in the nation, and that our system of school funding is equitable and affordable,” said Gopal. “The School Funding Reform Act requires the formula to be evaluated every three years, but only certain provisions are considered. This legislation would require a fundamental reassessment of the funding formula to determine whether it still reflects the true cost of education in New Jersey.”
In Oroho’s 24th Legislative District, 30 of 38 school districts lost school funding in the FY 2022 budget. The combined reduction of $7 million follows a $10.5 million loss the previous year. The Sussex County lawmaker has blamed the loss of financial aid to the policies of Gov. Phil Murphy.
“The funding double standard resulting from the misguided SFRA has been a failure. Too many schools, especially in rural and suburban areas, are losing out on the money they deserve and desperately need,” Oroho noted. “While certain districts have seen ever-increasing state aid, others have been subjected to millions of dollars of annual cuts forcing teacher and staff layoffs and reductions in educational services for students.”
Gopal said the special education funding is an issue of particular interest he wants to obtain answers for.
“There has been considerable debate about the impact of the current census-based formula used to calculate special education aid, which funds every district based on the assumption that their special education needs reflect a 15% statewide average percentage of students with disabilities,” said the chair of the Senate Education Committee.
“As a result, districts get the same aid whether they have large populations of students with disabilities or not, and regardless of whether they are spending as much as they should or providing the special education their students need.”
Previous GOP Efforts
This is not the first time members of the GOP wanted school aid reforms with the goal to to increase equity, improve education and lower property taxes.
In 2019, State Senate Republicans released their “Every Child Counts” plan, which attempted to fix what they see as many of the inequities in SFRA. Reforms in the plan included fully funding extraordinary special education, making sure PILOT payments are appropriately calculated, and eliminating the Geographic Cost Adjustment.
The bill now awaits action in the Assembly.