I'd like to help start some good, healthy dialogue regarding the regressive way that we fund public education in New Jersey.
Take a few minutes and look at your most recent property-tax bill. You will see a glaring number jump right off the page. Depending on what city you call home in Atlantic and Cape May Counties, your school-purpose tax will represent somewhere between 50 percent to 65 percent of your total property-tax bill.
This has been spiraling out of control for decades. Let me first stipulate that I fully support properly funding public education for our current and each new generation. It is a basic "contract" that was in effect before we were born; it remains to this day and needs to carry forward in perpetuity.
Funding a thorough and efficient education is vitally important for our state and our country. I want our children to have all of the core curriculum course work, along with sports programs and diverse extra and co-curricular activities.
This is not about denying our children anything. It's all about progressively funding public education. The regressive funding mechanisms currently in place has caused significant wealth flight from our state.
There are many ways to fund public education that have nothing to do with placing such a heavy burden on the backs of the property-tax payers.
The South Carolina public school system offers pre-kindergarten through grade 12. They operate within districts governed by locally elected boards of education and superintendents.
They have roughly 800,000 students, attending 1,250 schools spread over 103 school districts. They employ about 50,000 teachers, which equates to a ratio of one teacher for every 15 students. That's below the national average of 1:16.
South Carolina has one administrator for every 275 students. They consistently have the lowest overall education expenditures, but the highest spending per-pupil. This means that they drive their education dollars directly to the students.
Former Gov. Nikki Haley removed South Carolina from Common Core. They established their own standards to meet the needs of South Carolina and elected not to conform to a national cookie-cutter approach.
South Carolina has achieved excellent results at both ends of the spectrum: Achieving a high four-year college graduation rate and a high quality pre-kindergarten program.
A South Carolina property-tax payer pays roughly 10 times less as compared with New Jersey taxpayers for the same home.
New Jersey had 1,369,085 public education students during the 2016-17 school year. New Jersey has more school districts (600-plus) than municipalities (565). It's ridiculous at so many levels.
A concept of broadening the base of the sales tax would give local governments more flexibility in raising the revenue required to properly fund public education.
Many states fund public education with local, county and state sales taxes. No one likes taxes or fees of any kind. However, this distributes the tax burden more fairly and completely. Everyone would pay. Not just property owners.
Recently, former N.J. Sen. James J. "Sonny" McCullough, the mayor of Egg Harbor Township, did something very smart. He wrote a letter to all property taxpayers in Egg Harbor Township. He included it with the most recent estimated tax bill.
McCullough broke down the exact percentage of where the local property tax dollars are going: 64.2 percent to the Egg Harbor Township Board of Education; 17.6 percent to fund all other local government services; 17.6 percent to Atlantic County and 0.6 percent for Open Space.
Egg Harbor Township is further getting short-changed because the state has not properly funded education and energy receipts payments. The tax rate would decrease by 26 percent if the state fully funded Egg Harbor Township. A $7,000 per year property-tax payer would see a $ 1,820 property tax reduction.
If our elected and appointed officials can someday get together, imagine if we could eliminate the 64.2 percent school purpose tax from our property tax bills?
It would be a truly life-changing event. In its place, revise the sales tax and establish other local purpose taxes and fees (if necessary) that would be paid on a per-use basis.
It would spread out the burden. All would participate. Not just property owners. The result would be a seismic shift in the quality of life for our over-burdened property owners. New Jersey leads the nation in wealth flight.
We should demand a Constitutional Convention. Let's bring all stakeholders and elected officials together. We must realign this unacceptable tax burden, without hurting the public educational delivery system in any way.
If it's done the right way, hopefully the New Jersey Education Association and all other interests will be willing to band together and fix this unsustainable system.
My opening salvo is a broad-based proposal. The actual specifics should be negotiated by the local, county and state elected officials. Proper hearings and public input are essential for this to have any chance of success.
All it takes is courage and the political will to end a regressive practice that is failing miserably.
Please write me with your thoughts.