ATLANTIC CITY — Local and statewide activists gathered Friday night at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School Complex for a rally in support of equitable school funding for struggling school districts around the state.
The activists, part of the #WeChoose Campaign, called for a moratorium on building charter schools, ending state takeovers of school districts, ending discipline practices they say disproportionately affect people of color and equitable funding practices that make sure every school district has what it needs to educate students.
The main talking point throughout the night was equitable funding. Panelists argued a school funding system in which everyone gets the same amount is unfair because there are school districts that have more needs than others.
In June, Gov. Chris Christie proposed a Fairness Formula that called for the same amount of state aid to every student in the state, regardless of where they live.
Estimates calculated by The Press of Atlantic City showed most low-income districts would have lost millions of dollars if it were enacted. It has not been.
“The game has been stacked against black, brown and poor people for so long,” Henry “Hank” Green said Friday night. “We’re not talking about equality with this, we’re talking about equity. Everyone can’t get the same thing. We need a system where everyone gets what they need.”
School funding is a hot debate every year when state legislators gather in Trenton to put together a state budget.
This year, the Legislature handed down state aid figures in July after months of negotiations.
Cape May County saw most of its school districts lose aid, while several districts in Atlantic County got more.
Atlantic City received a total of $24.3 million in state aid for 2017-18, which doesn’t include an additional $32 million in other aid that is supposed to help offset the loss of ratables the city has faced in the past several years.
Egg Harbor Township got $1.5 million in additional aid for this year, while Pleasantville lost more than $800,000.
The budget provided the highest amount of school aid supporting Pre-K to 12th grade education in state history, according to the New Jersey Department of Education.
Its spending included lottery revenue totals of nearly $14 billion for education, an increase of $683.1 million from last year.
Seth Kaper-Dale, the Green’s Party’s nominee for governor, said at Friday’s rally the current school system in New Jersey is an apartheid and that districts need to be limited and desegregated.
“I want to have a real conversation about public-school funding and systemic racism within our schools,” he said. “We can no longer have a separate-but-equal school system, which we know is not equal.”