New Jersey's 26th Legislative District

Senator Joe Pennacchio

Senator Joe Pennacchio

Pennacchio Says School Funding Reform Should Include Fixes Highlighted During Select Committee Process

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With the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee set to vote on school funding reform legislation, Senator Joe Pennacchio (R-26) said that proposals offered last year by Republicans on the Senate Select Committee on School Funding Fairness should be included in the effort.

Sen. Joe Pennacchio said that proposals offered last year by Republicans on the Senate Select Committee on School Funding Fairness should be included in school funding reform efforts. (Wikipedia)

“I want to commend Senate President Sweeney for working to change the narrative on school funding, especially when Governor Murphy is looking to perpetuate the same failed policies of the past,” said Pennacchio, who served as co-chair of the Select Committee. “We spent much of last spring holding hearings of the Select Committee to identify critical fixes to New Jersey’s broken school funding formula. There were a number of good ideas produced through that process that merit inclusion in any school funding reform legislation that advances.”

Pennacchio highlighted the following school funding reforms proposed last year by the Republican members of the Select Committee:

  • To ensure educational opportunities for our state’s most vulnerable children in every school district , it’s crucial to re-calibrate how we fund special education:
    • Extraordinary special education should be fully funded, and that should be enshrined in the constitution to guarantee that it happens every year. School districts should not have to cover the entire financial burden of a $100,000+ cost that may accompany a child with special needs.
    • The current census approach to special education funding should be eliminated. We should return to a system where money follows our most vulnerable students depending on their unique needs, and not base funding on average needs.
    • Special education funding should be based entirely on the student and their individual need, and not be impacted by the incomes within a student’s district as is currently law. There should be no wealth equalization in special education funding.
  • School funding should follow the child so that enrollment changes and need changes are tracked and accounted for every year. A constitutional amendment would ensure that the State no longer allows certain practices employed in recent State Budgets, such as flat funding, across the board increases or hold-harmless aid. If a district has more kids and/or greater need, their funding should increase more than other districts. If a school district has a lower enrollment and fewer student needs, then funding should comparatively decrease.
  • In a small state like New Jersey, we must eliminate the use of any geographic cost adjustment because commuters and services flow across regions all the time.
  • To ensure that school aid is distributed fairly to school districts, payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) must be properly accounted for:
    • PILOTs should be distributed to local governments and schools in the same proportion as property taxes. A municipality should not be allowed to benefit from a PILOT to the detriment of the school district or county.
    • The local fair share or ability to pay of a local school district needs to include the full market value of any PILOT properties, regardless of taxes paid or previous blight.
  • Enrollment should be measured in a manner that is more difficult to manipulate than the current measure in SFRA – attendance on a single school day. Budgets should reflect needs over the entire year.
  • The measure of at-risk students needs to change from easily-manipulated enrollment in the Federal free and reduced-price lunch program. The greater needs of a district should be measured in other ways, such as the median income of a district or the percentage of children living below the poverty line.
  • For school districts in the Highlands, Pinelands, Meadowlands or other areas of our State where land-use is highly regulated, the NJDOE’s determination of local fair share must be adjusted to include certain communities’ land-use restrictions that may artificially lower property values.
  • Lastly, we have to work to ensure that any new formula is sustainable year after year. The current SFRA is not sustainable, which means it is never fully funded, leading to unfair distortions that hurt both students and property taxpayers.

“It seems that almost everyone agrees that the current school funding formula is broken, and there’s a consensus that items like special education costs and PILOT abuses need to be addressed,” added Pennacchio. “We shouldn’t assume that those items will be fixed in future legislation if we skip over them today. Let’s use the momentum we have to get school funding reform done the right way.”

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