School District-Endorsed 'Fair School Funding Act' Gains Senate Supporter

James Kleimann and Zak Koeske
12/05/11

 Republican support seems to be gelling behind legislation that would redistribute state education aid, a move that Fair Lawn's Board of Education supports.

After making his rounds in Bergen County's wealthier districts, Sen. Michael Doherty (R-23)picked up a key endorsement last month in his quest to change the New Jersey school tax formula.

Sen. Kevin O'Toole (R-40) will join Doherty as a co-sponsor of SCR-162, better known as "The Fair School Funding Act," state Republicans announced on Nov. 16.

With Senator O’Toole’s sponsorship, the resolution enjoys unanimous support among the Republican members of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

According to the proposed resolution, a constitutional amendment would reverse New Jersey Supreme Court decisions dating back to the early 1980s that require low-income districts provide a certain level of funding per student, which proponents of the bill claim comes at the expense of subsidizing suburban districts.

"If you look at the history of Bergen County itself out of the 21 counties, Bergen County has sent more tax money to Trenton and it’s gotten less back per pupil than any other county," said Bruce Watson, Fair Lawn's superintendent of schools. "And that’s unfair, that’s not right."

"A lot of the money goes to urban identified troubled districts," continued Watson, whose support of the legislation was codified in a resolution of support by the Board of Education earlier this year, "but we’re trying to keep good school systems to be good school systems and you can’t just dump all that responsibility on a local taxpayer. They pay their taxes too, we should get our fair share."

Sen. Doherty, who was in Ridgewood in November stumping for the plan, proposes taking the total income tax revenue received by the state every year and dividing that figure into the total number of enrolled students in the state. Each student would receive about $7,500 in state aid, regardless of what district they're in, Doherty said.

"And that’s all we want," Watson said, referring to an equal amount of state aid per district. "We don’t want to take money away from people. We just want our fair share."

Democrats have criticized attempts to reverse the court rulings, which have heaped billions of dollars on chronic underperforming school districts in places like Jersey City, Paterson, Hoboken, Camden and others.

The state's top court ruled this year that Governor Christie's move to cut state aid to the urban "Abbott" districts was unconstitutional.

“Like anyone else, the state is not free to walk away from judicial orders enforcing constitutional obligations,” Justice Jaynee LaVecchia wrote in the ruling.

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