Christie Proposes Upending New Jersey’s School-Funding Plan

Updated on
  • Republican governor says his proposal would cut property taxes
  • Plan calls for equal per-pupil funding regardless of income

Governor Chris Christie proposed drastic changes to New Jersey’s school-aid formula that distribute an equal amount for each student regardless of income, a move that would redirect money from cities to suburbs.

The governor, a Republican with 19 months left in office, has said that urban districts get more than their fair share. New Jersey is under court order to give extra money to the 31 poorest districts thanks to a three-decade case known as Abbott v. Burke that sought to equalize expenditures with the richest districts.

Over the past 30 years, New Jersey taxpayers have sent $97 billion to those 31 systems, while the other 546 have received $9 billion less, Christie said in a speech Tuesday at a school in Hillsborough. Those districts represent 23 percent of the students and receive 59 percent of state aid, he said.

“The inequity is appalling and it has only gotten worse as the years have passed,” Christie said.

Tax Bills

The governor said his so-called Fairness Formula will lower property taxes in his state, which pays the highest in the nation. His previous efforts to cut funding to the Abbott districts have been rejected by the state Supreme Court.

“We are not talking about cutting aid a dollar,” Christie said. “This is not a budget-cutting proposal. This is a budget-reallocation proposal.”

Christie has battled teacher unions over his funding reductions and his proposals to cut their pay and benefits, change tenure, link pay to performance, help schools fire teachers deemed ineffective and allow charter schools to operate in failing districts.

“Gov. Christie’s proposal would result in a huge step backward to the days when poor families in economically challenged communities were left to fend for themselves,” Wendell Steinhauer, president of the New Jersey Education Association, said in a statement. “His plan would subsidize those who have the most at the expense of those who have the least. That is the opposite of fair; it’s despicable.”

The legislature’s Democratic leaders, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, both issued statements saying Christie’s proposal is unconstitutional and would harm the most vulnerable children. In his more than six years in office, Christie has never fully funded schools in accordance with the current formula, and has vetoed Democrats’ efforts to do so, Prieto said.

“If Gov. Christie truly wants to undo the damage caused by his policies, he must acknowledge his responsibility by working with legislators to finally fully fund the existing -- and constitutional -- school funding formula,” the speaker said in a prepared statement.

The governor has said that giving more money to the Abbott districts hasn’t resulted in improvements.

Christie said that the graduation rate in Asbury Park hovers at about 66 percent even though the district receives the most per-student school funding from the state, $33,699.

In the wealthy district of Haddonfield in southern New Jersey, schools have a graduation rate of almost 99 percent while receiving only $15,292 per pupil, according to administration data.

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