OCEAN COUNTY – School officials from several local districts urged the state legislature to delay a bill that would cut a combined $42 million over the next seven years in state aid to local districts.
Senate President Steve Sweeney is scheduled to present the bill on June 21, according to a press release from Toms River schools. Since school districts already have their budgets finalized for next year, a significant drop would mean that the districts would have to make some changes, and possibly cuts.
A coalition of educators and political representatives argued that the school funding formula needs to change, but this is not the change that’s needed. State aid is based on a number of issues that are not recorded fairly. For example, some districts are considered wealthy when they are not. The bill, they argued, should be held off until a truly fair funding formula is crafted.
“Cutting aid through a formula that identifies districts that are ‘overfunded’ or ‘underfunded’ based on calculations that are materially flawed doesn’t make sense,” said William Doering, the business administrator for Toms River schools. “Before taking money away from our students, let’s make sure we correct the formula.”
They urged Gov. Phil Murphy to stick to his promise to modernize the funding formula. They included a quote from him in their press release: “We know our current school funding formula, enacted in 2008, needs to be modernized, and I ask you to work with me to make these changes so we can reach this goal of full, fair funding by the 2021-2022 school year.” This was attributed to his Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Address on March 13. They also noted that the governor’s budget had no cuts to school districts. Almost all districts would receive some increase.
Last year, there was a similar call to arms among local school officials and lawmakers. Toms River was set to lose $3.3 million and Brick was set to lose $2.1 million in state aid. Ultimately, after much lobbying, the aid was restored.
The reason given for the cuts last year was that Toms River and Brick schools had declining enrollment, and the state was adjusting its aid accordingly.
Toms River had 17,169 students in the 2008-2009 school year. They were down to 15,620 in 2016-2017. This is a reduction of 9 percent.
Brick had 10,283 students in 2008-2009. They were down to 8,753 in 2016-2017. This is a reduction of 14.9 percent.
At the recent coalition of 34 school districts, various representatives were present: Freehold Regional; Southampton; Millville; Hazlet; Lavalette; Weymouth; Vineland; Delaware Valley Regional; Frankford; Evesham; Clearview; Logan Township; Lacey; Pitman; Shamong; Medford; Burlington City; Dennis Township; Upper Township; Lumberton; Middle Township; Wildwood; Tinton Falls; Point Pleasant; Ocean Township; Clinton; Little Egg Harbor; Manalapan-Englishtown Regional; Manchester; Jackson; Pinelands; Plumstead; Stanhope; and Middletown.
The educators urged the public to contact their lawmakers to have their voices heard.