Credit: (Emma Lee / WHYY)
April 2021: Second graders sit behind their desks on the first day of personal training for more than a year at HB Wilson Elementary School in Camden.

The New Jersey Senate on Monday unanimously passed a bill setting up a task force to re-evaluate the current school funding formula as lawmakers advertise an agenda aimed at making the state more accessible.

Sponsors were Senator Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) and Stephen Oroha (R-Sussex). bill create a task force to study whether the state formula for school funding meets the needs of school districts. She was to report to the governor and the legislature within a year.

This will essentially explore the effectiveness of the current system and recommend improvements if needed.

The Senate Education Committee approved the measure about two weeks ago. The bill has not yet been passed by the General Assembly.

“Ensuring that municipalities get what’s fair is always good,” said Senate President Nick Scooty (D-Union). “So I think the task force will hold such meetings and hearings to see if it is possible to improve a process that has improved over the last few years, but is not ideal.”

Impact on property taxes

At the beginning of the current legislative session, MPs from Republicans and Democrats said they were open updating the school funding formula as a way to help reduce local property taxes or prevent them from rising.

“It really should bring transparency to the process when it comes to school funding,” Gopal said.

The funding formula was created in 2008 and set a base price for each enrolled student (which is currently $ 11,975 for elementary school students). This base cost increases depending on certain factors, such as whether the student receives a free lunch or a discounted lunch, or is bilingual. However, the state has not fully funded areas according to this formula, leaving some areas redundant and others with less than required by the formula.

When the bill is passed, the newly formed task force will examine these issues, as well as the methodologies used to weigh costs per student, among others, and may make recommendations to change the formula to suit district needs.

“Identify shortcomings and inconsistencies”

“Over the last few years, we have seen a significant increase in the level of poverty in different areas. The number of free and limited lunches has increased. And now, with the latest data from the 2020 census, we just want to make sure that each district has the latest information, ”Gopal said.

Oroho, a minority leader in the Senate, said the current school funding formula plays an important role in raising property taxes in the state, which already has some of the highest property taxes in the country.

In his statement, he said that 79% of the schools in his legislature had lost a total of $ 7 million in the last state budget and $ 10.5 million in the previous year.

“The assessment of the task force will help identify shortcomings and inconsistencies that contribute to the funding imbalance,” he said. “This will be an important first step in improving the way taxpayers spend money on education.”

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