Debate Continues on Funding Formula
The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2005 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds unless noted.
It was a special session of the New Jersey legislature that produced the most significant education-related developments of the year. By year’s end, most of those ideas remained at the proposal stage, and were only beginning to be drafted into legislation.
When it ended in November, the three-month-long session unveiled 98 recommendations designed to reduce the highest property taxes in the country.
The ones that pertain to school funding, which depends heavily on those taxes, centered on trying to forge a unified way of paying for schools in the Garden State. Lawmakers on the public school funding reform committee proposed a formula that would establish a base amount for each student and adjust for needs such as poverty. That approach would eliminate the designation that has funneled extra money to the poorest urban districts under the finance lawsuit known as Abbott v. Burke. ("N.J. Panel Eyes Changes in School Funding," Nov. 29, 2006.)
Many of the recommendations—such as the need to ascertain how much spending is necessary to provide a sufficient education in New Jersey, and the need to control spiraling pension costs—were expected to produce rounds of complex calculations and heated debate when the legislative session resumes next month.
The $30.8 billion fiscal 2007 budget signed by Gov. Jon S. Corzine, a Democrat, included millions of dollars worth of reductions, new fees, and taxes to manage a large shortfall. But the cuts were not made in education.
The $10.4 billion allotted for precollegiate education for 2007 was a significant increase above fiscal 2006’s $9.4 billion, but most of that increase went to boost pension-fund contributions, according to state budget officials. That left school districts essentially with flat funding this fiscal year, as they have been in each of the past few years.
The legislature passed, and the governor signed, a measure designed to prevent financial problems in school districts. It outlines key signs that would indicate early fiscal difficulty and empowers the state commissioner of education to appoint a monitor to oversee districts showing two or more of those signs.
Vol. 26, Issue 16, Page 20