At today’s Senate budget hearing examining the State Department of Education, Senator Steve Oroho (R-Sussex-Warren-Morris) called for an end to the school funding formula’s nonsensical “geographic aid adjustment” that deprives public schools in his legislative district and other rural areas of the state their fair share of state education aid.
“Our school district costs are roughly equal to or more than school districts throughout the state, yet the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) of 2008 adopted by the Corzine Administration penalizes us for a bogus assumption that it is significantly cheaper to educate a child in rural areas,” Oroho said. “As a result, our residents are faced with making up the cost differential via local property taxes. ZIP codes should not factor in the cost or quality of education in this state.”
Oroho detailed several examples of why the geographic aid adjustment is not fair to rural school districts, including: Special education costs and out-of-district placement costs are not dissimilar for all counties; state health benefits must be accounted for; the costs of energy, textbooks, supplies and food service are the same or similar across counties; and transportation costs are exponentially more expensive than for suburban/urban school districts.
“The expectation that it is less expensive to operate a school district in rural communities is a farce, as approximately 90 percent of our budgets are comprised of steady expenses,” Oroho noted. “Just as children should not be penalized if they live in a failing school district, students should not suffer from a reduction in state aid because of a nonsensical geographic stipulation in a flawed school funding formula.”
While advocating for specific changes to the SFRA in this year’s state budget, Senator Oroho reiterated that simplifying the school funding formula to create reasonable and fair per-pupil spending would be a major step toward decreasing property taxes. Education aid, which accounts for about one-third of our total state budget, is allocated based on this fundamentally flawed formula that was crafted to comply with a New Jersey Supreme Court edict under the “Abbott” ruling. As a result, 56 percent of the total state aid going toward education is spent in 31 urban school districts — the formerly called “Abbott” districts — representing roughly 21 percent of New Jersey’s public school students to the direct detriment of rural and suburban school districts and their students, teachers and taxpayers.
“School funding is so critical because of its impact on property taxpayers so I will continue fighting for fair funding. And based on New Jersey’s geographic size, highest population density and schedule of education costs, a geographic cost adjustment factor is flat out ludicrous,” Oroho concluded.