Op-Ed: No Time for Divisiveness in School Funding Debate

Education funding is once again the top issue in the state house. Adam Berry/Getty Images

I was quite surprised to read Assemblywoman Patricia Egan Jones’s op-ed regarding the Assembly’s school funding efforts, but my surprise turned to disappointment when I read Assemblymen John Burzichelli and Adam Taliaferro’s op-ed this week.

Facts still matter, even when it comes to New Jersey’s school funding debate. School funding is unquestionably the top issue in New Jersey, and has been for many decades. How best to treat all children fairly while ensuring a thorough education for the poorest children has proven to be difficult, to say the least. The fact that schools account for most of our property taxes makes this issue even more complex.

Emotions understandably run high, but considering the task at hand, the last thing the taxpayers and children of New Jersey need is the spreading of misinformation and falsehoods. Yet, that is what we have been getting for the last several months.

As chair of the Assembly Education Committee, I am deeply disheartened to read the distortions printed by some of my colleagues about the Assembly’s alleged lack of work to improve school funding throughout New Jersey.

I have heard plenty of bizarre things in the state house, but claiming the Assembly has failed children by ignoring school funding is the new champion. That sentiment is completely false. Assemblywoman Egan Jones and Assemblymen Taliaferro, members of the Assembly Education Committee, both attended the numerous public hearings we held throughout the state concerning the issue of funding our school formula. To criticize Speaker Vincent Prieto and our committee’s work is not only disrespectful to our other committee members, but also to the public for whom we all serve.

Let’s consider these facts:

  • The Assembly Education Committee held public hearings throughout the state on the how to best fix school funding.
  • Speaker Prieto has proposed a plan to provide immediate help starting July 1 to the most financially distressed school districts, to boost funding for special education, and to expand preschool, while working toward a long-term fix.
  • The resolution passed by the Senate regarding school funding does not remove so-called adjustment aid or growth caps.
  • The Senate resolution also does not contain a school funding formula.
  • The Senate resolution has no specifics whatsoever.
  • Assemblymen Burzichelli, Assemblywoman Egan Jones and Assemblyman Taliaferro have never asked me to post the Senate resolution for a vote.

As I have been saying for months, please read the Senate resolution. It will not take you long. The Senate resolution merely creates a commission to study school funding without input from those elected by the people to represent them in the Legislature. Nothing more!

According to the widely respected Education Law Center, should New Jersey decide to cut adjustment aid to schools, 200 school districts in New Jersey, including such diverse districts as Toms River Regional, Freehold Regional, Vernon Township, Lower Cape May Regional and East Orange would all lose funding. It would truly be a tragedy to see so many children hurt.

And while the Jersey City school district has been repeatedly used as a punching bag, for the record, the Jersey City school district is $94 million below its adequacy budget, the amount required to provide a thorough and efficient education to its children. Let’s get our facts straight.

As we move toward the July 1 deadline to pass a state budget, everyone would be best served by putting egos and regional politics aside and instead working on helping all the children in New Jersey. The focus must be on all of the children and all of the taxpayers, not on this awful counterproductive divisiveness promoted by some.

Marlene Caride is a Democrat who represents the 36th legislative district in Bergen and Passaic counties and chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee.