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Dems Seek School-Aid Fix, Fear Christie Will Push for Drastic Changes via Budget

Friday, January 20, 2017   (0 Comments)
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NJspotlight.com 01/20/17

Gov. Chris Christie isn’t due to present a new state spending plan until next month, but with lawmakers now starting to look more closely at the issue of education funding, the budget debate in many ways is already well underway. Two legislative hearings have already been held this week on the school-funding issue, and several more are scheduled to be held over the coming weeks.

The hearings come as Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-Hudson) have been working to get ahead of the school-funding issue amid fears that Christie, a second-term Republican now in his final year in office, could be looking to force drastic changes to the state’s school-aid formula through the annual budget process this year.

Despite the complicated political backdrop, lawmakers from both parties spoke yesterday during a lengthy Assembly Education Committee hearing about the need to work together on a bipartisan basis to resolve the funding issue in a fair manner. And no Republican on the panel made a pitch for Christie’s uniform, $6,599 per-pupil school-funding plan, which would hit urban communities with big cuts but help suburban school districts.

School funding has never been an easy issue in New Jersey, which pays for education primarily at the local level using a combination of funds raised through property taxes and money provided by the state out of the annual budget. This year, direct aid to local schools out of the state budget totals more than $9 billion, which is more than a quarter of overall spending. But property taxes are also at an all-time high in New Jersey, and in poorer communities there are simply not enough resources at the local level to keep pace with the spending that occurs in many of the state’s richer communities.

Sweeney is planning to chair an initial meeting of the Senate’s bipartisan Select Committee on School Funding Fairness on January 27 in Woolwich. “We have to look beyond the politics of school aid and do what’s right for education and the taxpayers and there are no good reasons for not doing it now,” he said in a statement released Monday as another committee delved into the same issue. “Further delays are the enemy of fairness and equity.”

But so far, Prieto is not onboard with Sweeney’s proposal, which could significantly cut funding for school districts in Prieto's home county of Hudson, including Jersey City. Instead, Prieto is taking a more wide-angle approach as the Assembly Education Committee plans to hold more hearings on the issue in the coming weeks.

 


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