Over half of Garden State property tax bills go toward educating the state's nearly 1.4 million public school students.
The average New Jersey tax bill is $8,767. About 52.6% of that, or $4,610, is the taxes the local school district levies on homeowners and property owners, according to data from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.
But the average taxpayers in some towns pay significantly more — and some pay significantly less — than that towards schools, according to an analysis by the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey. That difference is made up by the State government in Trenton.
Is it finally time for New Jersey to find a better way to pay for public school education?
New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the nation. What’s not well known is the primary reason: the unfair 2008 funding formula for state school aid.
Why unfair? To reduce property taxes, owners of a $400,000 home should receive the exact same in-state school aid no matter where their home is located. Problem is, they don’t. A $400,000 home in Jersey City pays $4,000 in property taxes. In most other New Jersey towns, that same $400,000 house pays $8,000+.
Further evidence of how unfair? Affluent people in Hoboken get free pre-K when people in most other New Jersey towns pay through the nose for pre-K.
For all the wrong reasons, Governors, the Legislature and the State Supreme Court have not addressed these inequities, which make the middle class poorer in most towns. Opponents will say, “We just need to fully fund the formula.” That’s egregiously misleading, not to mention income taxes would need to be increased significantly in order to do so.
We don’t necessarily need a better way to pay for schools. What we need is for the state to FAIRLY distribute the $10+ billion in school aid it hands out each year.
If the necessary reforms ultimately need to be decided by the people of New Jersey via a ballot referendum, count me in.
At the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked as he left the Pennsylvania State House “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” Franklin responded, “A Republic if you can keep it.”
Thomas Jefferson supported public education. He believed that in order to “keep it,” a basic education was instrumental to securing our liberties, enabling citizens to “understand his [or her] duties” and “know his [or her] rights.”
In 2018 educating New Jersey’s 1.4 million students required $8.4 Billion from the State income tax and $15.5 Billion from local property taxes payers.
Before the advent of New Jersey’s income tax, public schools were funded locally through the property tax. While it was a very Jeffersonian idea, it wasn’t very fair because the quality of education a student received depended on where the student lived. The income tax was intended to level out the differences between affluent and not so affluent towns.
Unfortunately, through Robinson v. Cahill, Abbott v. Burke, the Public School Education Act, the Quality Education Act and the School Funding Reform Act, New Jersey hasn’t been able to agree on and stick to a dependable long term funding formula for educating our children so that they can secure our liberties.
Part of the problem lies with the hybrid local-state funding sources. Ensuring that all our children receive a “thorough and efficient” is not the responsibility of anyone town, group of towns or county. It is a state responsibility that ought to be funded exclusively through the income tax. In so doing, our state can not only have a fair and reliable long-term funding formula for public education, we can also cut property taxes in half for every property taxpayer