Changes to the School Funding Reform Act that would mean big increases for several Atlantic County school districts, but cuts almost across the board in Cumberland and Cape May counties, hang in the balance as the state government continues its budget debate.
A plan introduced last month by Senate President Steve Sweeney to eliminate growth caps and phase out adjustment aid to schools over seven years was passed by both houses of the Legislature this week. However, without a deal on his proposed tax increases in the budget, Gov. Phil Murphy said, he won’t support the changes.
“I engaged with the Legislative leadership in talks to modernize our funding formula. Make no mistake, we have made tremendous progress. However, until we have an agreement on sound and sustainable revenues, we cannot have an agreement on school funding,” Murphy said in a statement Wednesday.
According to projections released Thursday by Senate Democrats, Sweeney’s proposal adds an additional $348.1 million in school funding for fiscal year 2019’s budget.
Under the projections, Absecon would see the greatest percentage increase in Atlantic County, just more than 80 percent. Atlantic City and Hammonton also would see large aid increases, of 19 percent and 17 percent, respectively.
Egg Harbor Township, which has long fought for additional aid, would get a 5 percent bump.
More wealthy areas with smaller populations such as Margate, Longport and Linwood would all see aid decreases.
Under this plan, former Abbott district Pleasantville, and many of its counterparts throughout the state, would not see a reduction in aid. In addition, county vocational schools would not lose funding.
The bill passed the Senate 25-13. State Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, voted for the bill, while state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, voted against it.
Brown said Saturday the new formula is “a step in the right direction” for schools such as Egg Harbor Township that have grown immensely but have not seen equitable funding. He said he is optimistic the governor will see the changes are fair.
Van Drew again said he doesn’t support the legislation because it takes away from school districts that still need the funding, despite the loss in enrollment.
“I believe there should be winners and winners,” he said Saturday. “Many of these school districts are not wealthy school districts at all.”
In the Assembly, where the bill passed 54-17, Cape May County Democrats Bob Andrzejczak and Bruce Land voted against the bill, while Atlantic County Democrats John Armato and Vince Mazzeo voted for the legislation.
But despite being passed by the state Legislature this week, the revamped school funding plan might not make it past the governor’s desk. Different views on how to handle school funding have prompted discussion about a possible shutdown next month as the governor and Legislature battle it out.
This week, both houses also passed a $36.5 billion budget that provides more funding for schools, but does not include Murphy’s proposed tax increases that he says are needed to pay for the budget. Both Van Drew and Brown opposed the budget.
Murphy warned there would be no agreement on fully funding public schools or modernizing New Jersey’s School Funding Formula until the state has “sustainable recurring revenues to support schools on the path to full funding.”
“Passing a responsible and sustainable budget is more than our constitutional obligation. It’s our moral obligation. And, it is our responsibility to work in good faith on behalf of the children of this state,” he said.
Like Sweeney’s plan, Murphy’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 includes a $341 million increase for pre-K through 12th grade public education, but no districts would receive less funding than they did last year.
In place of Murphy’s millionaire’s tax, the budget proposes a temporary increase to the Corporate Business Tax.
“We share many of the same priorities as the governor. We just have a different approach to how to fund them,” said Assembly Budget Committee Vice Chair John Burzichelli, D-Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem. “We have done our constitutional duty in drafting a document that is balanced and meets the needs of the people we met throughout the budget process. I hope the governor will give it the consideration that it deserves.”