BY PATRICIA EGAN JONES
As Governor Christie’s June 8th deadline comes and goes, the General Assembly has once again failed the children of our state by ignoring the most important issue before us— resolving the school funding crisis that is plaguing our taxpayers statewide.
The School Funding Reform Act of 2008 is lauded as the best school funding design in the nation, but the legislature failed to remove the adjustment aid and growth caps as originally intended. I am dismayed that Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto failed to consider testimony after testimony heard at each education committee held throughout New Jersey. While everyone has gathered around the table in an attempt to collectively formulate a consensus that best serves us all, Speaker Prieto has turned a deaf ear to the growing chorus of New Jersey taxpayers pleading for change. Instead of engaging in conversation, Speaker Prieto has silenced those voices that call for an equitable solution. All of this to benefit wealthy real estate developers in overfunded municipalities, such as Jersey City, who take advantage of state programs in order to line their pockets with taxpayer money.
Speaker Prieto has proposed that we disburse a one-time unfunded $125 million aid package for one year to our state’s most underfunded school districts. Unfortunately, the Speaker’s plan lacks the thoroughness of a fair formula, and therefore fails to address the ongoing crisis. The Speaker’s plan places a Band-Aid over an open wound for districts-in-need. Towns within the Speaker’s home district of Hudson County continue using loopholes to rip off the state and underfunded districts. Towns such as Jersey City and Hoboken receive 100 percent of state funding for pre-K from the state, while the majority of the state’s taxpayers relentlessly struggle to pay out of pocket for early childhood care expenses. It is truly a tragedy that wealthy well-to-do residents are reaping the benefits of extremely low taxes due to payment in lieu of tax (PILOT) programs in Jersey City, while school districts in municipalities like Monroe Township of Middlesex County continue suffer.
By contrast, Senate President Sweeney’s school funding formula has received bipartisan support. We need to recognize that we cannot adequately address property taxes (another crisis) without first solving our state’s school funding dilemma.
Speaker Prieto has been unwilling to allow a discussion of the Senate President’s school funding formula in the Assembly Chamber. This shouldn’t be about a legislative leader’s inability to get along nor should it come down to an 100 day deadline imposed by the Governor. The bottom line is that the most supported and viable bill has sat on the Speaker’s desk for months. Instead of allowing a discussion among his members, he offers a last minute proposal that does not adequately address this issue
As a member of the Education Committee, I am frustrated that the Speaker has failed to allow my committee to hear Senate President Sweeney’s proposal to end the school funding crisis. The Governor’s deadline has arrived and the General Assembly—The People’s Chamber—has simply failed to act.
Patricia Egan Jones is the Assemblywoman from the 5th Legislative District.