Six years ago when I ran for the Assembly, one of my objectives was to strengthen our public schools. For years, the Legislature sought a solution to the oft-controversial process of allocating state tax dollars to New Jersey’s 616 school districts. Whereas our State Constitution mandates a “thorough and efficient” education for all public school students, our goal must be to ensure that all students are adequately educated and prepared for the workforce.
Until recently, New Jersey had systematically allocated state aid to two groupings—the 31 “Abbott” school districts and the 585 “non-Abbott” school districts. The Abbott designation arose from a 1990 State Supreme Court ruling that held certain school districts with high concentrations of poor residents and relatively low property value were entitled to special state aid. Abbott districts received about half of all state aid while educating only one-quarter of all public school students.
In light of the recent press surrounding the School Funding Reform Act of 2008, I wanted to take a moment to reiterate the importance of fair school funding in New Jersey. The new school funding formula eliminates “Abbott” designations and, more precisely, allocates money to students who need it most. Under the new funding formula, schools in the 19th Legislative District all received additional school funding, totaling over $22 million in additional state aid. As one of the most vociferous Assembly members on this topic, I am proud to say that this is the second highest increase among all legislative districts.
With reform imminent, I was proud to have been a prime sponsor of the School Funding Reform Act of 2008, designated to allocate state aid in a more fair and efficient manner to all school districts. The formula awards aid to all school districts based on enrollment, and then adds extra money per student who is poor, has limited English-proficiency or receives special education services. The reform truly levels the playing field for all school districts.
Expectedly, the new formula is currently being challenged in court. However, on March 25, 2009, Superior Court Judge Peter Doyne declared New Jersey’s new formula “constitutional” and “a thoughtful, progressive attempt to assist at-risk children throughout the State of New Jersey, and not only those who by happenstance reside in Abbott districts.” In addition, Judge Doyne recommended that Abbott districts be allowed to ask for additional aid for at least three years to see if additional money is needed.
The decision comes after months of review at the behest of the New Jersey State Supreme Court. The matter has been referred back to the State Supreme Court for a final decision. The decision will ultimately decide the fate of the controversial Abbott district program and the new funding formula. At-risk students live in every corner of this state, in Abbott and non-Abbott districts. We cannot turn a blind eye to those students in need outside Abbott districts. I believe we have found an appropriate and fair method of allocating state aid to ensure that our public school children receive a thorough and efficient education to help them succeed in the future.
As always, should you have any questions, comments or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my district office at 276 Hobart Street, Perth Amboy, (732) 324-5955 or via e-mail at AsmVas@njleg.org.