This week thirty-thousand Paterson students are returning to school for a new year. It’s the second year since Governor Christie’s devastating cuts forced the district to end middle-school language programs, the arts, and athletics – and one year since the Supreme Court found those cuts so damaging that they violated the constitutional rights of students in Paterson and around the state.
But even though the Supreme Court compelled Christie to restore funding, students in Paterson aren’t returning to schools that have been made whole. The city has yet to rehire many of its teachers, and class sizes have ballooned out of proportion. The truth is that Paterson is short $16.4 million in funds and would have lost more if the Governor had succeeded in a backdoor attempt to shortchange New Jersey’s poorest students by changing the way education is funded by the state. The legislature, to their credit, stopped Christie’s attempt to permanently change the school funding formula, but it wasn’t enough to save Paterson and other communities from this year’s cuts.
This approach of attacking education is par for the course for Gov. Christie’s, and the problem is much bigger than just Paterson, Trenton, or the so-called ‘Abbott districts.’ Over 200 school districts, urban and suburban, are still funded below adequacy levels and have been slow to restore staff and programming in the wake of Christie’s cuts -- the grand total of which amount to a whopping $3.6 billion. Many suburban communities are being funded well below where they were before the Governor’s term. Wyckoff has lost 42% of its funding, Paramus 45%, and Wayne 43.9%.
The School Funding Formula was passed by the legislature in 2008. It was the product of a lengthy dialogue between policymakers and experts about what New Jersey students really need to thrive. That the Governor continues to underfund New Jersey’s schools even as he gives billions in tax cuts to the wealthy and large corporations like Prudential, Revel Casinos, and the developers of Xanadu is a real moral failing and a disservice to New Jersey students.
Now the Governor has convened a panel of ‘experts’ without actual expertise to release a forthcoming study about school funding levels. Their recommendations can be expected to closely resemble changes the Governor tried and failed to enforce in June that would have taken money directly away from the state’s poorest students and English Language Learners.
It’s absurd that three years into the Christie administration students and parents continue to struggle while the wealthy and corporations pay lower taxes. Instead of coming up with creative ways to take education funds away from poor children, the Governor should focus instead on finding ways to at last fully fund the formula so that all of New Jersey’s students can get the education they deserve.
Mr. Corey L. Teague
Member, Paterson BOE
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