Running in arguably the most competitive general election battleground contest this year, state Senator Jen Beck (R-11) this morning showed up at the Statehouse with parents from ten school districts to make her case for a fair school funding formula that addresses overcrowding and underfunding in her Monmouth County district.
“We’re fighting for funds in this budget cycle for underfunded districts,” said Beck. “Reworking the school funding formula is a complex undertaking and no legislator will want to move funds if it makes the property tax crisis in their towns worse. That said, the underfunded districts cannot wait for another state budget cycle or another school year passing without getting relief.
“At the very least, I’m asking my colleagues on the Senate and Assembly budget committees to provide our most underfunded and overlooked school districts with additional resources in the upcoming FY18 state budget,” she added. “As for more comprehensive reform, I welcome a substantive discussion.”
Representatives from Freehold Borough, Red Bank, Monroe Twp., Kingsway Regional, Chesterfield, Robbinsville, Delran, Paulsboro, Rahway, and Swedesboro-Woolwich joined Beck for her press conference ahead of this morning Assembly Budget hearing on education funding.
“We’ve long pushed for a fair share of state aid for school districts like Red Bank and Freehold Borough that have been massively underfunded year after year,” said Beck. “Today isn’t the first time we’ve brought parents, superintendents, and teachers from underfunded districts to Trenton to ask for fair funding, but it’s certainly the biggest. It should be noted that there are 46 districts that receive state aid in excess of what the School Funding Reform Act says they should get at a cost of more than $10 million. At a minimum, it makes sense to look at re-distributing this $10 million.
“That said, it’s not clear, that redistributing adjustment aid is going to be as uncomplicated as some have suggested since 97 of the 181 school Adjustment Aid Districts currently overpay in local property taxes for their schools, and 157 of those districts are also underfunded relative to what SFRA says they should get in state aid,” the senator added.
While changes are necessary to the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA), the state’s school funding formula, Beck said that immediate relief in the upcoming state budget is critically needed for underfunded districts if wholesale school funding reform cannot be accomplished prior to the budget’s adoption.
The campaign manager of Beck’s general election opponent, Vin Gopal, issued a statement in response to the senator’s morning press conference.
“Today, Senator Beck made one thing painfully clear: Beck only cares about school funding when politically convenient,” said Axel Owen. “In her nearly 20 years in office, Beck has done nothing to bring about a solution to New Jersey’s school funding crisis. Instead, she’s offered up a ‘plan’ that perpetuates the problems and is fundamentally unfair to our schools and taxpayers. Beck’s actions are an insult to the education community who are trying to find a solution. Monmouth County families and students deserve so much better than Jen Beck.”
Owen said Beck was an early cheerleader of the school funding cuts that Governor Christie pushed that brought New Jersey to this point, and then went quiet once the fallout began. New Jersey schools have been underfunded by $1 billion since 2010. Now, Beck advocates what Owen described as “a status quo plan (ACR-2/SCR-140) to enable a system that allows underfunded school districts and their taxpayers to subsidize overfunded districts. Her proposal to merely tinkers with adjustment aid without addressing enrollment caps, ignores the problems at the root of this crisis.”
Included below are the full press conference remarks as prepared for delivery by Superintendent Rocco Tomazic (Freehold Borough), Superintendent James Lavender (Kingsway Regional), Superintendent Brian Brotschul (Delran Township), and Superintendent Jared Rumage (Red Bank Borough), as furnished by the Senate Republican Office:
Tomazic: “Thank you Senator Beck for calling this press conference to highlight these very serious concerns. Our Freehold Boro parents are here today because they are being done a great injustice by the state. Our schools are over 50 teachers short with many critical educational programs not being run, all because the state has chosen to distribute state aid in a way that some districts are flush with extra cash and others are struggling to provide the basics. Our Freehold community members are here because they have seen their tax levy contribution soar as they try to keep the district afloat in the face of year after year of flat funding. They have come to hear the Commissioner of Education justify this approach. But mostly they have come to express their displeasure to their elected officials. This is not just a Freehold Boro problem. It manifests all around the state.”
Lavender: “Thank you Senator Beck for having the courage to address the inequity in school funding allocations. Kingsway’s story is similar to the hundreds of underfunded districts throughout this state… We get 43% of what we are entitled; our student body has grown by 44% since the adoption of SFRA without corresponding increases in state aid; we are short dozens of teachers; and our residents are overtaxed. We are tired of the excuses and demand that every member of the legislature act now by eliminating the hold harmless adjustment aid used to punish the close to 400 public schools and lift the enrollment caps preventing state aid increases to the 100 school districts who have grown since the adoption of SFRA. These outdated and arbitrary budgetary measures, intended to be temporary in 2008, are now crippling the majority of our public schools. We call on the members of the legislature to put fairness before politics and fix this school funding fiasco before summer recess.”3
Brotschul: “Delran Township too thanks Senator Beck for proactively supporting the underfunded and overlooked districts in our great state. A poorly executed school funding plan that overtaxes the residents of Delran and requires dismantling of programs and opportunities for our students has prompted the founders of Our Fair Share NJ – Delran residents- to join us in Trenton today. Delran township public schools facilitates an efficient operation and, if the matter of school funding remains status quo, the district will be faced with cutting personnel and human capital that directly impacts students, their achievement and preparation for the colleges and careers that are supported so specifically by the most aggressive learning standards in the country. While there is no greater influence on student achievement than a qualified teacher, in Delran we have nothing left to cut in order to remain operationally solvent. Sadly, it will be those that immediately impact children. With critical educational programs not being run for our youngest and most at risk learners we serve I can only point to the state for knowingly and improperly executing a school funding plan since its inception that creates far more losers that winners. Residents are trying to make sense of the decisions that the state administration has recommended that asks the legislature to create losers in funding and tax relief. To date they have received little explanation outside of the reality that the executive branch and two arms of the legislative branch have not made adequate progress. The formula for executing education funding requires immediate change and support from both sides of the aisle and all areas of the state.”
Rumage: “I am here today with members from the Red Bank school community because we are facing a crisis. We have seen a 40% increase in enrollment since 2008 which means flat funding actually represents a significant reduction. In Red Bank, this problem is exacerbated by the existence of a held harmless charter school, which ironically, spends $2000.00 more per pupil annually than the Borough Schools. We cannot provide the educational environment our students deserve and are entitled to, when our talented and passionate educators are at such a clear disadvantage. The playing field is not level – it is like we are competing with two hands tied behind our back. Our children, their families, and our community deserve more – and the more is needed now. Senator Beck, on behalf of my colleagues and all of our supporters here today, thank you for helping us showcase our concerns. We need our fair share of funding in the 2017-2018 budget. We hope that you and others in the legislature can provide this help and we thank you for your continued support.”