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Senate Republicans Announce “Every Child Counts” School Funding Reform Plan

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Joined by Superintendents, Education Advocates in Support of Plan to Lower Property Taxes, Improve the Quality of Education in Classrooms, and Protect Our Most Vulnerable Children

Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean and members of the Senate Republican caucus announced the “Every Child Counts” school funding reform plan at a State House press conference today.

Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean and members of the Senate Republican caucus announced the ‘Every Child Counts’ school funding reform plan at a State House press conference on March 4, 2019. (SenateNJ.com)

The package of legislation is designed to boost State support for special education, increase equity and accuracy of school aid allocations, and eliminate opportunities for school districts and municipalities to game the funding formula.

“The school funding reforms announced by Senate Republicans today will lower property taxes, improve the quality of education in our classrooms, and protect our most vulnerable children in every corner of New Jersey,” said Kean. “We believe our plan builds and improves upon previous reforms, while addressing lingering concerns raised by both Republicans and Democrats. These are important next steps to improve how we support the students in our classrooms that should have bipartisan support.”

The Every Child Counts legislative package includes the following bills:

S-3219 (Singer) Eliminates use of census-based funding of special education aid in school funding law.

S-3675 (Corrado/Kean) Requires 100 percent of State aid for certain special education students be calculated as categorical aid.

S-3676 (Singer) Establishes panel to study implementation of tier classification system with related cost factors for special education categorical State aid and requires State Board of Education to adopt through regulations panel’s determinations.

SR-138 (Pennacchio/Kean) Urges State to fully fund extraordinary special education aid for students in 2019-2020 fiscal year and thereafter.

Click here for a simulated data run showing the district by district impact of the proposed ECC reforms.

Click here for a two-page background document detailing the proposed reforms.

Kean made the announcement with Senator Kristin Corrado (R-40), Senator Mike Doherty (R-23), Senator Steven Oroho (R-24), Senator Declan O’Scanlon (R-13), Senator Joe Pennacchio (R-26), and Senator Bob Singer (R-30).

They were joined by superintendents and officials from the Freehold Regional, Little Silver, Middletown, Passaic Valley Regional, Pequannock, and Totowa school districts.

“We’re honored to have so many leaders from New Jersey’s education community standing with us to announce of our ‘Every Child Counts’ plan,” Kean added. “Their support is proof that our plan is a positive step forward for students, teachers, and property taxpayers.”

Also in attendance to lend their support were Betsy Ginsburg, Executive Director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, and Jerry Thiers, Executive Director of ASAH.

Senator Joe Pennacchio on special education funding:

“Reforming how we fund the special education needs of our most vulnerable students is one of my priorities as a legislator. Our proposal to have the State assume the full cost of extraordinary special education, which can top $100,000 per student in some instances, is a game changer.

“We don’t think any district should have to assume those significant costs on their own, and parents shouldn’t worry about whether the State will fulfill its funding commitment from year to year. Most importantly, no district should be afraid of improving special education programs for fear they might blow up their budgets by developing a good reputation for educating our most vulnerable students.

“We think fully funding extraordinary special ed will encourage districts to invest in their special education programs, while providing significant relief to property taxpayers.”

Senator Robert Singer on special education funding:

“The census-based approach that is currently employed to fund special education in New Jersey doesn’t make sense. Under current law, we assume that a certain percentage of all students in New Jersey have special needs, and we fund special education in every district based on that statewide 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. In fact, more than 7,400 special education students aren’t counted in school aid calculations under the law today.

“Districts should get special education funding based on the actual number of students in their classrooms, not statewide averages. Ensuring that ‘Every Child Counts’ as we have proposed is the right thing to do.”

Senator Kristin Corrado on special education funding:

“We want to ensure that our most vulnerable children are given the opportunity to achieve their full potential wherever they live in New Jersey. It shouldn’t matter what town they live in, or what school district they go to.

“Under the current formula, however, two-thirds of special education funding is based on the wealth of the local school district. That means that some of our special education students are, in fact, being punished for living in certain towns. That’s just wrong, which is why we must eliminate wealth as a factor in special education funding.”

Senator Declan O’Scanlon on ensuring that school funding track student needs ever year:

“One of the reasons school funding has become such a challenging issue is that we repeatedly have strayed from following the formula. In response to budgetary challenges in prior years, we’ve seen instances where aid was held flat for everyone, or aid was increased or decreased by a certain percentage across the board. Those arbitrary changes didn’t account for the changing needs of individual districts from year to year. Over time, larger and larger inequities crept into funding allocations.

“The constitutional amendment that we’ve proposed as part of our plan would require the statutory school funding formula to be followed every year, even if it needs to be prorated after being run to account for available funding. This will ensure that the changing needs of school districts are consistently accounted for every year, while preventing deviations from growing as they had under SFRA.”

Senator Steven Oroho on increasing accuracy and equity in school funding:

“School funding is one of the most important issues we can ever attempt to tackle. My primary concern is that the formula should be based on sound principles that will lead to an equitable distribution of aid and the best possible outcome for the most students.

“Before SFRA was enacted, there was significant research that had guided its development. Unfortunately, politics got involved at some point and a largely rational formula was altered to ensure legislative approval. Many of the skewed weights from SFRA have carried through to our current formula. We propose right-sizing those weights in certain areas to match what’s supported by the research, and eliminating geographic cost adjustments that are unnecessary in a small state like New Jersey.

“We believe these changes to the formula will yield a more accurate, equitable, and research-supported calculation of what each district and each student deserve.”

Senator Mike Doherty on ending the gimmicks and manipulation of school funding:

“With a finite amount of school funding available each year, the efforts of some school districts to manipulate the formula to their benefit always have a negative impact on everyone else. This is nothing less than institutional theft, which should concern us all.

“Some towns have artificially reduced their apparent wealth by taking billions of dollars of development off the tax rolls through PILOT agreements, which falsely skews school aid calculations in their favor. Our plan ends these long-known PILOT abuses once and for all.

“We’ve also seen instances where districts have improperly enrolled ineligible kids in free and reduced price lunch programs to trigger an ‘at risk’ designation, which increases the school aid they receive.

“By eliminating opportunities like these for school district and towns to manipulate the data that’s input into the funding formula, we’ll end the abuses that have skewed school aid calculations for too long.”

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Republican Senators

Tom Kean

District 21 - Republican Leader

Kip Bateman

District 16

Chris Brown

District 2

Anthony M. Bucco

District 25

Gerald Cardinale

District 39

Kristin Corrado

District 40

Michael Doherty

District 23

Jim Holzapfel

District 10

Steven Oroho

District 24

Declan O'Scanlon

District 13

Joe Pennacchio

District 26

Robert Singer

District 30

Samuel Thompson

District 12

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