New Jersey's 26th Legislative District

Senator Joe Pennacchio

Senator Joe Pennacchio

Editorial: Our School Plan Will Lower Taxes and Make Every Child Count, Republican Legislator Says

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The following editorial by Senator Joe Pennacchio (R-26) detailing the new Senate Republican school funding reform plan, “Every Child Counts” was published on April 17, 2019 on NJ.com.

Sen. Joe Pennacchio’s editorial detailing the new Senate Republican school funding reform plan, Every Child Counts, was published on April 17, 2019 on NJ.com. (Wikimedia Commons)

For far too long, children and taxpayers around New Jersey have been the victims of an unfair school funding formula that punishes kids, simply because they live in the wrong zip code. This has to end. I believe that every child deserves the same opportunity to get a great education, regardless of where they live.

That’s why I was proud to stand at a State House press conference recently with my Senate Republican colleagues, school district superintendents, and education advocates to unveil a new, comprehensive school funding reform proposal to fix this problem, once and for all.

This new legislative package is intended to fix an inefficient and unfair process for funding education that fails students and taxpayers in all types of communities across New Jersey.

Our “Every Child Counts” plan provides for a more equitable distribution of State school funding to every child, every year.

We believe the reforms we have proposed will lower property taxes, improve the quality of education in our classrooms, and protect New Jersey’s most vulnerable children.

Senate Republicans have worked diligently over the past several years to research and develop a better approach to school funding. We listened to the concerns of parents and educators, and sought the advice of experts.

As a result of these diligent efforts, we produced a plan that has earned the praise of superintendents and leading education advocates around the state.

They understand that Every Child Counts would better track student needs, improve support for special education, and finally prevent bad actors from gaming the school funding formula at everyone else’s expense.

I’m especially proud of our proposals to reform how we support the educational needs of our most vulnerable children. Our current system of funding special education in New Jersey is inequitable, poorly targeted, and discourages innovation.

Perhaps the biggest and most important change we’ve proposed is to have the state assume the full cost of extraordinary special education.

Extraordinary special education costs are defined as expenses in excess of $40,000 or $55,000 that a district incurs while providing direct instructional and support services to a special education student.

Some students with significant challenges may require services that far exceed those thresholds. In some extreme cases, the cost for an individual student might exceed $100,000 a year.

While the State is supposed to reimburse districts for those extraordinary costs, in practice, the reality is that most school districts only get back a fraction of what they deserve.

We don’t think any district – or their property taxpayers – should ever have to pay for this on their own. They shouldn’t have to worry about whether the state will fulfill its funding commitment from year to year.

Most importantly, no district should be afraid of developing better programs for fear they might blow up their budget by developing a good reputation for serving special education students.

By fully funding extraordinary special education, we’ll remove that disincentive and improve services, all while providing significant relief to property taxpayers.

We also want to do away with the current census-based approach to funding special education that’s based on statewide averages, rather than real students.

Under today’s law, approximately 15.4 percent of all students in New Jersey have special needs, and we fund special education in every district based on that average. As a result of this deeply flawed policy, some districts with higher populations of special education students don’t get the funding they need, while others get money for educational services they don’t provide.

In fact, more than 7,400 special education students were not even counted in school aid calculations last year under the law as currently written. That doesn’t make sense.

Our proposal eliminates those averages, so that we can fund districts based on the actual amount of students they are educating.

Finally, we want to ensure that our most vulnerable children are given the opportunity to achieve their full potential, regardless of where they live in New Jersey.

However, under the current formula, only one-third of special education funding is based on the child’s needs, regardless of income. The other two-thirds is based on the wealth of their local school district.

A disabled child faces obstacles regardless of how much money their neighbors may have. Our plan would eliminate wealth as a factor in special education funding. I am grateful that Senate President Sweeney shares many of these same concerns. We have made a commitment to work together to right this wrong.

Senate Republicans believe all of these proposed changes will improve the quality of special education in our classrooms, while reducing a significant expense for school districts and taxpayers.

Overall, our Every Child Counts school funding plan is a blueprint that will ensure every student in the Garden State gets a great education.

After years of failed approaches to school funding, Every Child Counts is the affordable, effective plan that New Jersey families deserve. To learn more, click here.

State Senator Joe Pennacchio, a Republican, represents the 26th Legislative District.

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