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Connors, Rumpf & Gove

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Connors, Rumpf & Gove: We Don’t Need a Study Commission to Tell Us What’s Wrong With the State’s School Funding Formula

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Dueling Senate and Assembly committees have convened to study the issue of school funding. But for taxpayers in underfunded school districts, including those in our legislative district, there is no need to study how the school funding formula is broken.

Connors, Rumpf and Gove call for a fair school funding formula that serves all school districts, not just a select few. (©iStock)

All you have to do is look at your property tax bill to know that you’re not only paying for the students in your local school district, but the students in other districts as well.

Special needs districts, more commonly known as Abbott districts, which are mostly located in urban areas receive the lion’s share of school funding. Essentially, the school funding formula is a cash cow that is milked for every drop by Abbott districts. Why not? Most of their funding is your tax dollars.

Consider: Under the current state budget, Abbott districts get 56 percent of the total $8.03 billion in direct school aid, while the non-Abbott districts got 44 percent despite accounting for roughly 20 percent of the state’s K-12 enrollment.

For years, our delegation has fought to reform the state’s woefully defective school funding formula. Fueling our challenge to the status quo is the understanding that the absolutely egregious funding disparity between the 31 Abbott districts and the more than 500 suburban and rural school districts is both deliberate and politically motivated.

You can see the collateral damage from the school funding disparity worsening. Severely underfunded school districts, such as those in our area, are being pitted against angered taxpayers creating a hostile atmosphere in our communities. Underfunded yet well-run school districts are forced to make painful cuts that Abbott districts rarely, if ever, have to even entertain because Trenton is a willing partner in their excessive and wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars.

To state the obvious, pouring tens of billions of taxpayer dollars into Abbott districts has proven an unmitigated failure in improving education for students. Further, the disparity in school funding has led to high property taxes that have made New Jersey unaffordable for so many including seniors, the middle class, small businesses and the working poor.

Current school funding policies favor urban areas to such a ridiculous extent by rewarding failure that it begs the question: What incentive is there for Abbott districts to reform or be accountable, and risk losing billions of dollars in State funding?

Unless there is a substantial change in the composition of the State Legislature and, more importantly, the New Jersey State Supreme Court, suburban and rural schools will continue to be underfunded. The state Supreme Court’s flawed concept of a “thorough and efficient education,” which for 30 years has basically been to throw more taxpayer dollars at the problem, is a case study in why judges can’t be allowed to legislate from the bench.

The stakes are simply too high, especially for those taxpayers on the financial brink, to allow homeowners to be taxed out of the state. Stand with our delegation in demanding a fair school funding formula that isn’t politically devised and serves all school districts, not just the select few.

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Chris Connors

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DiAnne Gove

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