Ciattarelli First Republican to Offer Specifics on School Funding Challenge

Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli. Alyana Alfaro for Observer

One of the leading candidates on the Republican side of New Jersey’s gubernatorial race released his plan for changing the way the state funds its schools Monday when Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli released his response to Governor Chris Christie’s call to come up with a bipartisan compromise to resolve one of the state’s thorniest and most enduring policy challenges within 100 days of his budget address.

Ciattarelli criticized the Democrats’ proposed approach of simply funding the existing school funding formula, which leaves some suburban school districts underfunded while offering a larger share to poor cities and certain districts that are better-off financially now than they were in 2008, the last time lawmakers revised the formula.

“Our school funding formula is unnecessarily complex. It’s time for something new,” Ciattarelli wrote in an open letter to Christie, Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean and Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick. “The formula disadvantages children, taxpayers and educators in far too many middle class, blue collar school districts throughout the state, leaving some communities, for example, to sacrifice libraries for classroom space.”

Ciattarelli, who is facing Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno in the Republican gubernatorial primary, favors revising the way the state allocates aid under the historic Abbott v. Burke ruling. See the details below.

• Reduce excess aid in the most extremely overfunded school districts by 20 percent per year over five years, with the savings re-directed to the most severely underfunded school districts in places like Delran, Egg Harbor Township, Lakewood, Manville, Freehold Borough, Red Bank and Woodbridge and other middle- and working-class towns across the state

• Redefine ‘local fair share’ so no community funds less than 25 percent of their school operating budget or construction costs through the local property tax levy, phased in over five years or 20 percent a year

• Recognize that simply spending more money per student does not guarantee better educational outcomes. Change the state aid formula by reweighting cost-per-student spending targets (i.e., ‘adequacy’). This will better serve non-Abbott middle- and working-class towns and shore communities across the state by reallocating state aid to distribute today’s needs, not the 1980s

• Prevent communities from abating school taxes on new development with 75 percent of negotiated payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (i.e. PILOTS) dedicated to the local school district

• Ensure that state-funded pre-K is not unfairly limited to a small handful of districts by reforming the system to redirect state pre-K funds making means-tested pre-K available to all families at no additional cost to taxpayers

Ciattarelli First Republican to Offer Specifics on School Funding Challenge