WOOLWICH TWP. — Senate President Steve Sweeney joined with local education officials at the Kingsway Regional School District on July 14 in a forum discussion on the school funding reform initiative that would provide full funding to all school districts in New Jersey, including Kingsway.
The proposed legislation, S-2372, would create a special commission to develop a school funding reform plan within five years to close the gap that now leaves 80 percent of the districts underfunded.
“The state has failed to fund the formula or to keep up with the needs of the individual school districts,” said Sweeney. “This has resulted in disparities and funding shortfalls for rural, suburban and urban communities throughout New Jersey. For fast-growing communities such as those in the Kingsway area, this underfunding shortchanges the schools and puts upward pressure on local property taxes. We need to act to remedy this problem by fully funding the school aid formula.”
Kingsway is a regional district that includes students from Swedesboro, South Harrison, East Greenwich, Woolwich, as well as from Logan Township, who attend through a receiver agreement. One of the fastest growing districts in the state, Kingsway would get an increase of $11.6 million in state aid under the funding reform plan offered by Sweeney and Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, the chair of the Senate Education Committee.
Combined, all the communities would get an increase of $22.5 million in school aid from the state by bringing them to full funding and by accommodating enrollment growth.
Kingsway now receives $8.9 million in school aid. With full funding and enrollment growth, it would receive $20.5 million, an increase of $11.6 million.
The Swedesboro-Woolwich local regional district gets $7 million, but would go to $13million, an increase of $6 million.
The East Greenwich local regional district now gets $3.5 million, which would grow to $7.8 million, an increase of $4.3 million.
South Harrison gets $1.6 million but would increase to $2.2 million under the plan, a growth of $600,000.
In total, property taxpayers from Swedesboro, Woolwich, East Greenwich and South Harrison who make up the Kingsway Regional School District and currently receive combined funding of $21 million would see that rise to $43.5 million, an increase of $22.5 million under the reform plan, including full funding of the formula and funds to accommodate enrollment growth.
According to the 2010 census, the Kingsway district experienced a total population increase of approximately 100 percent since 2000, resulting in an increase in student enrollment by more than 60 percent.
In contrast, the funding plan offered by Governor Christie would provide these communities an additional $19 million in state funds, but it would do it by taking money away from neighboring districts. The governor’s proposal would cut $5.2 million from Paulsboro, reduce aid to Glassboro by $2.8 million and give Woodbury $2.7 million less. The reductions would total $10.7 million.
“We believe that state aid should be distributed fairly and equitably based on a formula that takes into account each town’s property tax base, its ability to pay, increases and decreases in enrollment, and the special needs of the children,” said Dr. James Lavender, Superintendent of Kingsway. “This reform plan will help Kingsway and other communities provide a quality education while protecting local taxpayers. It’s a strong step in the right direction.”
Under the Senate legislation, a four-member “State School Funding Fairness Commission” would be established and given one year to develop a plan that would bring every school district in the state to “adequacy funding” within five years. The commission will put the plan into legislation that will have to be approved or rejected in its existing form with up-or-down votes by the Legislature.
Sweeney said he expected the plan to include increased state funding of as much as $100 million annually over the five-year timeframe.