Yesterday, Senate President Sweeney announced a bill (reportedly negotiated with Assembly Speaker Coughlin) that seeks to address school funding inequities that have existed in New Jersey for decades by bringing all school districts to 100% of their state aid over the next seven years (see media coverage below):
Announcement of School Funding Reform Bill
The bill's main elements are:
- The immediate removal of state aid growth caps (enrollment caps removed in 2019-20);
- A seven year phase out of adjustment aid and several other non-SFRA aid categories;
- A tax cap waiver for former Abbott districts up to their local fair share;
- Authorization for an employee payroll tax per separate legislative bill; and
- Aid to county vocational school districts not lower than the 2017-18 amount.
This is a monumental step in a long battle: a sustainable path to school funding equity. Reportedly, a key point in the legislative negotiations was the extension of the adjustment aid phase out from five to seven years. For severely underaided districts, any delay in full equity prolongs a painful situation. Seven years is more than sufficient time for districts to right size their budgets to their current enrollment needs and/or raise local taxes up to the local fair share.
Passage of this bill is expected next week, and the ball will be in Governor Murphy's court. In his initial response to the proposed legislation, he said, "we can't solve this overnight." Seven years is far from overnight. A sustainable path to school funding equity is long overdue and needs this action now to continue the journey to a stronger, fairer New Jersey.