MADISON, NJ -- New Jersey Sen. Michael Doherty told an audience of about 80 residents Tuesday that his Fair School Funding plan would provide the borough’s school district $16.7 million in additional state aid, or roughly half the total of the 2011-12 school budget of $32.6 million.
Doherty, a Warren County Republican, filed legislation calling for an amendment to the New Jersey Constitution that would require every student, regardless of where they live, to get the same amount of state education aid, approximately $7,481.
He said he presented his bill to the Senate finance committee Monday, but it was not advanced to the full Senate by a 9 to 5 vote, a failure he pinned on the committee’s Democratic majority.
“I want to change New Jersey,” Doherty said. “My bill is fair for all.”
He urged school board and borough council members to pass resolutions in support of his plan.
Doherty’s bill is a reaction to the recent state Supreme Court decision that ruled the state’s school aid program approved last year shortchanged the state’s poorest school districts.
The school funding law was passed in 2008, but last year Gov. Chris Christie l$1.6 billion in school aid to balance the state’s 2011 budget.
When the Legislature passed the School Funding Reform Act, the Supreme Court said it would monitor the spending levels for three years to see if they met the state’s “through and efficient” standard. Ruling that the 2011 spending formula fell short, the court ordered $500 million be added to the 2012 state budget to fund school operations in the 21 Abbott, or special needs districts.
Abbott district funding has been a major sore point for the state’s Republicans since 1985 when the first ruling was issued. The Abbott districts, primarily urban, are in predominately Democratic legislative districts.
Doherty’s proposed amendment is based on two main ideas: That the state’s progressive income tax, created to provide property tax relief, means that the top 1 percent of the state’s earners pay 40 percent of the state’s income tax, while the bottom 30 percent pay no income tax, and the state’s school funding plan sends less money to the state’s richer school districts than to the poorer districts.
He said that Asbury Park, an Abbott district, with 2,316 students compared to Madison’s 2,285, received $55 million in state aid this year, while Madison received $349,346. Each Asbury Park student gets $23,753 in aid, while every Madison student gets $153, Doherty said.
“Every student in Asbury Park receives 155 times as much in school funding as a Madison student," he said. Meanwhile, Madison pays 10 times as much into the income tax fund as Asbury Park.
Doherty said he objected to the special aid that poor district students receive, including aid for at-risk students, (students who qualify for free or reduced cost lunches), students with limited English proficiency or aid for students who present a combination of those two factors. He said he also objected to additional aid for security in urban schools, additional aid for schools in urban areas;and equalization aid to compensate districts for lack of taxable property.
“Students in Abbott districts are better off because of this additional aid, than students in Madison,” Doherty said.
He also said that state examinations of school aid and propert taxes in the Abbott districts suggest that the school are mis-classifying at-risk students and that the municipal governments have taken steps through tax abatements to lower over all property values which the state then covers with additional aid.
The audience greeted parts of Doherty’s plan with applause, but overall, was quiet.
Madison resident Bill Cole said he objected to Doherty’s characterization of the income tax impact.
The reason the top 1 percent pay 40 percent of the income tax is because the earn 40 percent of the income, Cole said.
He also objected to the notion that aid should be taken from the poor areas of the state and was concerned about the potential impact in social terms if that occurred. Cole said that if Doherty was concerned with mismanagement in the Abbott district, he should get the Legislature to address that issue.
William Eames, a candidate for the state Assembly in the 22nd District applauded Doherty’s plan.
“What makes Madison students less worthy?” he asked.
Bruce Esrig of Madison objected to the notion that taking money from the state’s poorest towns would make things better.
“That is not the way to build a society,” he said.