Ciatterelli Answers Christie’s Challenge, Pitches School Funding Reform Plan

Chris Christie offered a largely symbolic challenge to the NJEA-controlled state legislature in this year’s budget address, but one Republican candidate to succeed him is taking it seriously.

On Monday, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-Somerset) forwarded a letter addressed Governor Christie, Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean and Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick outlining a new school funding formula.

“When a $300,000 home in Delran, Egg Harbor Township, Lakewood, Manville, Freehold Borough, Red Bank and Woodbridge pays more in property taxes than an $800,000 home in Jersey City, something is wrong,” wrote Ciattarelli. “Far too often, we hear that the answer to the school funding crisis is simply ‘fully fund the current formula.’ This is a flawed solution designed to protect the status quo and shirk responsibility.”

Christie had challenged legislatures to achieve a consensus alternative to the notoriously unfair existing formula in 100 days. Ciattarelli’s plan differs substantially from the one originally proposed by the Governor which would’ve promulgated a set amount of aid for each N.J. K-12 student with exceptions carved out for children with special needs.

Here are the plan’s major points (as articulated by Ciattarelli’s staff):

  • “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”

A copy of Ciattarelli’s letter can be viewed here.