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State Legislature considering changes to school funding

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 06, 2006 1:11 pm    Post subject: State Legislature considering changes to school funding Reply with quote

From the Courier Post...


Lawmakers mull cutting Abbott funding

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Associated Press Writer

TRENTON -- Lawmakers plan to develop a new school funding formula that ends special treatment for poor, urban schools, two Democrats said today as legislators continued debating how to cut New Jersey's highest-in-the-nation property taxes. Such a plan would end years of disputes over state funding disparities between suburban, rural and city schools, but also would have to pass muster with a state Supreme Court ruling that has demanded equality between poor and wealthy schools. State Sen. John Adler and Assemblyman Herb Conaway, co-chairmen of a special committee mulling school funding as part of property tax reform talks, said their goal is to develop a funding formula that can be imposed upon every school district, no matter its locale. "It doesn't seem like a crazy idea to treat people fairly wherever they live," said Adler, D-Camden.

The comments came after Assemblyman David Wolfe, R-Ocean, demanded the panel - one of four considering property tax reform ideas - hold a special hearing on spending in the 31 city school districts that receive extra state money.

Those districts have about 22 percent of the state's student population, but they get about 55 percent of all state school aid. While there is heavy state funding for the 31 districts, state aid for most schools hasn't increased in five years, forcing them to rely more heavily on property taxes that have increased about 7 percent per year in recent years. The taxes average $6,000 per property owner, twice the national average. "The explosion in property tax rates in recent years can be very closely tied to the disparity in school funding," Wolfe said. "We cannot fix that problem unless we have a full and accurate understanding of how money is being spent and whether money is being wasted in all of these school districts."

But Adler and Conaway said a special hearing won't be needed because they plan to eliminate special treatment for the 31 districts. "I'm a Democrat," Conaway said. "I'm an African-American. I am not going to do something which will be a detriment to black and brown children across this state, but we need to recognize that children who have hurdles before them in terms of their education live all over this state." Adler said he has ideas on how a single school funding formula could get approval from the state's high court, but wouldn't elaborate. The committees have until Nov. 15 to devise reform recommendations.

"We'll treat kids fairly no matter where they happen to live," Adler said. "That's at least an achievable goal. That's all the courts have been telling
us to do for a long time."

The Supreme Court ruling stems from concerns that children in poor city schools don't receive the same quality of education as those in wealthy suburban schools. It requires the state to provide substantial aid to 31 districts designated as needing special help so their funding is equal to the state's richest school districts.

Conaway noted the court has often ruled against bids to alter the special treatment and ordered lawmakers to alter their plans. "We may have do that this time, but we're going to give it the old college try to make sure that we come up with a system for funding schools for funding the individual needs of students," Conaway said.

Will this plan "pass muster" with the NJ State Supreme Court?

Why is the Judicial branch of government mandating spending? Doesn't the legislative branch hold the checkbook? Will it take a constitutional amendment in order to solve the "Abbott" problem? Stay tuned for the answers to these and other important questions...
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