Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Assemblyman Ciattarelli: Let's "De-Abbottize" School Districts That Receive Way Too Much State Aid

Want to talk about inequality? Social and economic justice? The one percent? How about owners of $6.5 million homes sending their kids to free Pre-K paid for by taxpayers who live in communities like Manville?
That's Assemblyman Jack M. Ciattarelli (R-Somerset) who urges state lawmakers to consider "de-Abbottizing" school districts that, while once poor, are now considerably more wealthy yet continue to receive enormous amounts of state school aid. The case in point is Hoboken where, as I reported last month, a house just sold for $6.5 million. Yet the district there, which educates 2,700 students, receives $10,791,915 in state aid despite increasing wealth among residents. And  $5,392,689, or fully half of state taxpayer's contribution to this hip town, is allocated through the line item of "Adjustment Aid," which six years ago, when the State Legislature passed a completely unrealistic state funding formula called SFRA, was supposed to hold districts harmless and gradually phase out.

But Adjustment Aid never went away because no governor can fully fund New Jersey's pipedream of a school funding formula and the State Supreme Court made full funding a condition of implementation.

Ass. Ciattarelli's argues that parents who live in Hoboken have their schools subsidized at a rate far lower than poorer districts. He  notes that the annual property taxes on that $6.5 million house are $43,000 but "on average the property taxes on a $6.5 million home in most other New Jersey towns are four times that." In Manville, for example, one of N.J. under-funded districts, owners of a home worth $6.5 million dollars (if you could find one) would pay $157,000 in property taxes.

Through a different lens, Hoboken receives state aid at a rate of $4,115 per pupil and Manville receives $800 less per pupil. And because Hoboken is an Abbott district, on the twenty-five year old list of N.J.'s 31 poorest districts, students also receive free full-day preschool.

None of this is new. We've lived with an unsustainable school funding formula since SFRA passed the Legislature in 2008. Finally, though, it appears that lawmakers are ready to tackle the special interests defending the formula -- Education Law Center in particular -- and at least get rid of obsolete Adjustment Aid. This would be a step in the right direction.

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