A debate is ongoing in Trenton and throughout the State concerning how best to address
the failures of the school funding structure in the State of New Jersey. Following a Landmark
decision from the New Jersey Supreme Court, the State Legislature addressed the funding
mechanism in 2008 by way of the School Funding Reform Act. However, the formula established under the Act has failed to account for population growth centered in certain sections of the State and further has failed to yield positive results in the urban districts receiving a disproportionate share of State funding.
Governor Christie has introduced a “Fairness Formula” in which each district will receive
an equal amount of State aide per student ($6,599.00/pupil) and will eliminate the inequities
experienced by communities that have experienced significant residential growth since 2008.
Mayor Alan Schwager of Woolwich Township stated, “I fail to understand how demographically
similar communities within Gloucester County are treated in such a different manner. I look at
one of our neighboring Municipalities within the County, which is funded at 141% of what it is
entitled to under the Statutory formula. At the same time, the Swedesboro-Woolwich School
District is funded at 63.6% and Kingsway Regional, where my residents send their older children, is funded at a mere 47.2%. I understand that Kingsway Regional has been designated as a ‘SuperGrowth’ district due to a significant increase in population. However, with a spike in residential home ownership comes a corresponding increase in students that must be educated. The State has failed Woolwich Township and the other sending districts to Kingsway Regional in keeping pace with the times.”
Mayor Dale Archer of East Greenwich Township has been particularly vocal on the subject
and has plead the case both to his local Legislators and the Governor’s office merely to “fairly
underfund” East Greenwich Township Schools in addition to Kingsway Regional High School,
which is a regional school drawing students from East Greenwich, Woolwich, South Harrison, and Swedesboro.* The most recently available statistics demonstrate that the State is failing to fund the school districts throughout the State and provides, on average, 85.3% of the funds called for under the funding formula established under the School Funding Reform Act. Accordingly, a
school district receiving 85.3% of what it is entitled to under the State formula is known as a “fairly underfunded” district. Even at that reduced funding level, the Mayors from East Greenwich, Woolwich, and South Harrison Townships complain that their districts, including Kingsway Regional, do not even meet the State average, which itself fails to provide adequate funding for the schools.
“I have been pleading our case to anyone who will listen that East Greenwich deserves to
be fairly underfunded and treated equitably, at least in comparison to surrounding school districts”, commented Mayor Archer. “The Township Committee for East Greenwich has written to Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli, and Assemblyman Adam J. Taliaferro without a long term solution offered in response. We were truly excited that Governor Christie exhibited the type of courage and forward thinking necessary to change the system in a fundamental way with his ‘Fairness Formula’. Members of my Township Committee felt strongly enough that we passed a Resolution of support of Governor Christie’s plan.”
Mayor Jim McCall of South Harrison Township likewise supports the Governor’s
proposal. Mayor McCall stated that “my residents are forced to pay artificially high property
taxes to make up for the disproportionately allocated State aid in order to fund the Kingsway
Regional School District. It seems to me that the State funds that come from my constituents are
being diverted to towns which clearly can afford to bear their fair share of the tax burden.”
Mayors Archer, Schwager, and McCall are of like mind in not wishing to in any way
penalize financially disadvantaged school districts. They acknowledge Governor Christie’s
position that flooding those areas with extra State aid has not yielded positive results either in
testing scores or graduation rates. That said, they merely wish State aid to be based upon number
of students within a given district, and not on an artificially imposed funding formula that has
failed to readjust with the times. Mayors Archer and Schwager both agreed that provisions need
to be made for special education programs and other specifically tailored educational tools to allow all students within the State of New Jersey to receive a quality education. “While I want to see all districts within the State provided for fairly, I was elected to represent the best interests of East Greenwich. When I look at the statistics, they jump off the page at me demonstrating the inability of the Legislature to have the flexibility on an annual basis to react to changes in demographics and specific school needs. The people I talk to are simply sick and tired of paying more than their fair share to subsidize other school districts”, said Mayor Archer.
If enacted, Governor Christie’s “Fairness Formula” will result in a reduction of average
annual household taxes of $1,938.00 in East Greenwich, $1,598.00 in Woolwich, and $1,456.00
in South Harrison.
*Logan Township is also a sending district but pays tuition for each student who attends.