Christie misses school aid deadline, but talks continue

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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has missed a self-imposed deadline for reworking how the state funds education, but he says talks with leaders toward a solution are continuing.

During his February budget address, Christie called for reaching a deal with the Democrat-led Legislature within 100 days. The deadline was Thursday, but Christie and legislative leaders didn't announce a new plan.

Instead the governor said he and Senate President Steve Sweeney and the Republican legislative leaders were still talking.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said he hadn't heard back from the governor after recent discussions. A legislative solution would have to pass the Senate and Assembly before heading to Christie's desk.

"It takes three to tango," Prieto said.

Sweeney gave Christie credit for talking with lawmakers and being open to crafting a solution. He said the governor shouldn't be criticized for breaking a promise.

"I think he's showing some restraint and a willingness to have a conversation with us," Sweeney said.

Sweeney pointed specifically to the governor not putting his so-called "fairness formula" in his budget proposal. Christie proposed the plan to equalize school funding at $6,599 per pupil, instead of the current funding allotment, which gives about 30 poorer, mostly urban districts more money than suburban districts.

"He basically backed off his plan when he did his budget address in February," Sweeney said. "It was a sign of good faith."

Missing the date doesn't carry dire consequences and Christie set it as a way to spur discussion in the legislation.

"I pledge to work with the leaders of the Legislature to come up with a new funding formula," Christie said in the Feb. 28 address. "Everything is on the table. No idea out of bounds for discussion."

He added: "Here is my one requirement to offering this compromise. 100 days."

The issue is how the state should divvy up aid to its more than 600 school districts. The Legislature passed a school funding formula in 2008, but except for one year, it has not been funded. The Christie administration has kept funding relatively flat, shorting the formula by about $ 1 billion a year.

The details of a possible deal are not entirely clear, but Sweeney and Prieto have called for the 2008 law to form the basis of a compromise. Sweeney said the increased funding for the formula and cuts to districts that are overcompensated would likely have to be phased in over time.

The issue is in the news as Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno compete to succeed Christie.

Murphy has embraced the formula and said it should be funded. Guadagno has sidestepped the formula and instead called for capping the school-district portion of property tax levies at 5 percent of income.


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