Saturday, February 24, 2007

Reforming School Aid Formula Will Wait Yet Another Year

More than half of New Jersey’s property taxes are used to finance public schools. For the past seven months, Governor Corzine and the State Legislature have attempted to reform the school aid formula that determines the amount of State funding each school district receives. For many years, the aid has disproportionately gone to underperforming urban school districts while suburban and rural districts receive little in the way of funding. Unfortunately, because of political wrangling, plans to implement a new school aid formula for the upcoming fiscal year have been scrapped. Instead, hundreds of millions of dollars in Governor Corzine’s upcoming budget proposal will be pledged to boost state aid to our school districts. While increased funding is a welcome change, meaningful property tax reform will never occur unless our legislators are willing to tackle the unfair school assistance program.

Currently, the formula rewards urban districts at the expense of suburban and rural areas whose residents are forced to pay an ever-increasing share of property taxes to finance their public schools. Meanwhile, urban residents have their public schools partially, if not primarily, funded by the rest of the residents of the State of New Jersey.

While urban schools undoubtedly need more help from the State than suburban and rural districts, the waste, fraud and abuse occurring in many urban school districts and governments must be seriously tackled. Millions of dollars are being misplaced, money that could be used to offset property tax hikes in suburban and rural districts. School bureaucracies have expanded in urban districts and they must be curtailed. Funds should be spent on instruction for students, not top-heavy, high-salaried administrators who rarely step inside a classroom.

Of course, serious reform of the school funding formula will mean that urban districts will face greater scrutiny and may lose some aid. This does not sit well with the legislators who represent these districts, where powerful and significant blocks of votes in the State Legislature are cast.

However, with the possible retirements/defeats of several key urban legislators from Essex and Hudson counties, hopefully these “lame duck” legislators will, during their remaining time, look out for the best interests of all residents of the State of New Jersey and not simply their own particular constituencies. If they do realize that they represent all of the people of the State of New Jersey and not only the people who live in their districts, they may do the right thing by using their power to reform the school funding formula, for the betterment of all State residents. In addition, two groups that advocate for a new school-funding formula announced this past week that they would merge to create one powerful organization representing 150 school districts. The new organization will likely be able to make inroads with legislators from “swing” districts, enabling a more equitable school funding formula to become a reality.

Michael M. Shapiro, Publisher and Managing Editor of, graduated from Rutgers College and Stanford Law School. Mike currently serves as the Chairman of the New Providence Democratic Party and Editor of The Alternative Press. Contact Mike at