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School Funding Information: The Scoop

April 6, 2017 12:02 am0 commentsViews: 9

kingsway logoBy The Fair Funding Action Committee

The Fair Funding Action Committee (FFAC). FFAC is a locally based committee comprised of founding members from Swedesboro, Woolwich, East Greenwich and South Harrison. FFAC is dedicated to taking the action necessary to help fund our local schools properly. 

It’s all you hear about lately: school funding. So what is all the fuss about?

“Don’t the schools get enough of my tax money?”, some inaccurately argue. Well, here is a little education about local education (in layman’s terms!) to keep you ‘in the know’.

New Jersey education has been a huge mess for a long time. Since the late 1970’s, districts were fighting to help the government understand that not all schools are created equally. The Abbott Rulings were litigations in an effort to improve public education for 31 low-wealth school districts in the state.

Following these rulings, the state spent years to devise a system fair to all schools: the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA). This was deemed constitutionally viable and signed into law by the Supreme Court for NJ in 2008.

The SFRA includes a complex formula to take into consideration many factors of a district and allocate funds in fair distribution throughout the state. This formula was actually praised by other states. Finally, a fair way to distribute State Aid to NJ Schools.

Well, problem solved, correct? Keep in mind, using this FAIR formula, districts would receive state aid in a fair way. So, in 2008 as the money was about to be distributed according to the SFRA formula, naturally some districts were over the 100 percent mark of this formula and some were under the 100 percent mark of this formula.

Well, here is where things got a tad political. Immediately following the SFRA formula release, some legislators asked the following two questions (in simple terms, not their actual words, mind you):

  1. “Before you implement this, let’s add a ‘hold harmless’ clause to the SFRA….temporarily. That way my constituents who are OVER the 100 percent mark have a year to figure out how to proceed.” Sounds logical, right? The problem is, this hold harmless was NEVER LIFTED.
  2. “Before you implement this, we don’t have time to figure out which districts are growing or shrinking in size- Let’s add a TEMPORARY enrollment cap for now until we have time to figure out where we stand.” Sounds okay to do temporarily, right? Well the Enrollment Cap was NEVER LIFTED.

So the SFRA (which is fair to all schools) has never been fully funded. The Adjustment Aid and the Enrollment Caps stayed on. Now here’s the real kick in the teeth…..

Following the SFRA formula signed into law in 2008, a town called Woolwich had its 2010 Census show that the town grew by 236 percent. (Guess the legislators never thought about that when they kept the ‘enrollment cap’ on.)

Each of the sending districts to Kingsway Regional School District were growing. To this day, Kingsway continues to incur student growth. But to accommodate this growth, the state helped by increasing $0.

Around 2010, a two-year grass-roots effort was taken on to fight for fair funding to our area. As a result, less than one million dollars was given by the state to Kingsway annually as SEGA money (Supplemental Enrollment Growth Aid).

Great, right? Not really. Today, Kingsway is short $11.6 million annually. Kingsway is also over $8 million BELOW the ADEQUACY level. That will be explained in a minute.

This SEGA money in 2012 was the equivalent of needing life-saving asthma spray that costs $1, yet the SEGA money was one dime thrown at us while saying ‘Good luck with that”. Nowhere NEAR enough to properly run a school and still provide a ‘thorough and efficient education’ as constitutionally, legally mandated.

Fast forward to today (remember, KRSD $11.6 million is now short annually in STATE AID), the way NJ state addresses this shortage is to ‘allow’ a 2 percent tax levy AND to allow a tax waiver for growth (basically, they recognize the need, and said it’s okay to tax our own residents, as long as the state does not have to kick in.)

This falls to YOU, taxpayers! But did you know that Kingsway will not be using the tax waiver (basically, won’t charge you extra even though they have the right) because of the two referendums that were soundly defeated? They hear the residents (heck, they ARE the residents paying these taxes).

Kingsway is taking a stand. “ENOUGH, Trenton! Why should we place the burden on taxpayers when you are not giving us our FAIR SHARE?!” The focus is not beating each other up, it’s understanding that Trenton needs to get their act together to stop the hemorrhage in South Jersey!

Did you know? Our tax levy has been impacted tremendously. Because the state has refused to adequately fund our schools, since 2008 the KRSD increased the tax levy of four surrounding towns by $33 million; the Swedesboro Woolwich School District increased the tax levy on Swedesboro and Woolwich residents by $36 million.

This is the money the state LEGALLY owed our area and could have saved on the tax levy had the SFRA been FULLY FUNDED as ORIGINALLY INTENDED and signed into law.

Fact: Kingsway is the lowest spending-per-pupil district in NJ grades 7-12. An average of $10,000 per pupil is spent at Kingsway, while the average 7-12 spends $15,000!

Fact: Kingsway is extremely efficient and well run. They do everything in their power to keep costs down-provide shared service agreements and extra workload on the teachers, staff, admin. Yet, come September, with Flat State Aid, Kingsway will be down almost 50 personnel, cut middle school and freshmen sports, eliminate after school late buses and STILL be in the same boat next year with MORE lay-offs imminent in the 2018 budget (remember, the state is funding Kingsway based on enrollment prior to 2008).

I don’t know about you, but THIS is cause to make some noise to Trenton. How can having NO other choice but to pack study halls be ‘thorough and efficient’ education as deemed necessary by the law? Meanwhile, the kids are unable to run on a dilapidated track, do not have adequate wifi, and given the wear and tear on the schools (and continual growth), there is nothing else to be done but fight.

The truth is, had the administration, faculty and staff of Kingsway not been as efficient at their jobs, the students would have suffered a long time ago. The administration of Kingsway and our community has been giving a voice to this issue for nearly 10 years through testimony and direct meetings with legislators, the NJDOE and treasury office. What more must be done to receive ADEQUATE state aid?

Meanwhile, the ‘hold harmless’ clause allows districts that are already OVERFUNDED to maintain this funding to this date – even if enrollment shrinks. I like to think of it as two homes with 10 people each. In 2008, each home is allotted the same $10 to spend. By 2017, home #1 only has one person left in the house; nice and spacious, no wear and tear, and instead of splitting the $10 to get one dollar each, that person left gets all $10.

So nice. Meanwhile, house #2 increased to 100 people in the house-wear and tear, using resources, more resources are needed BUT the $10 must be split not by 100 people. Seems insane, right? That’s because it IS insane.

Kinsway’s growth is SO anomalous, yet Trenton refuses to add state aid and makes our taxpayers suffer. NO MORE.

So what can you do? Let’s just say this…the squeaky wheel gets the oil. We NEED to hold Trenton and all the legislators accountable. This is NOT a political message as the mayors agree- Fund the SFRA as ORIGINALLY intended NOW, Trenton.

A list of actions can be found on krsd.org (by the exclamation point on the top of the homepage). Also, check out the history of fair funding in our area on that website.

The Fair Funding Action Committee also has a Facebook Page. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Check facts. Kingsway BOE meets in a public session monthly. All are welcome. We need you to be a part of history and help call, email, tweet and repeat as much as you can.

At the NJ Budget address, Governor Christie gave legislators 100 days to come up with a fair solution and new formula. By the time you are reading this, we will have less than 70 days to make a change.

After countless meetings, it has been determined that the ‘NEW’ formula is the SFRA as originally intended (minus the Hold Harmless, Minus the Enrollment Caps and ensuring the formula is revisited for items such as special education biannually).

So, to ALL legislators, you may not have started the fire, but you are charged with a huge responsibility to help the 80 percent of NJ schools who are UNDERFUNDED.  Let’s present this ‘New Formula’ to the Governor at the 100 day mark with gift tags from a BIPARTISAN NJ.

We need to put kids first. We NEED to put the pressure on TRENTON. Are you in?

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