Friday, January 04, 2008

Corzine Killing Public Education in NJ? S4000/A500 

Cross-posted at BlueJersey.com

Governor Corzine and Commissioner of Education Lucille Davy are, pretty much under cover of darkness, trying to kill off public education in NJ while seeming to support it.

They've produced a new state education funding formula, embodied in Senate bill S4000 and Assembly bill A500, that they're trying to force through Trenton with so little time for reflection that few of our legislators will have sufficient time to look at the details and see just how awful it is.

My friend Steve Latz is a 9-year veteran of the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education and one of the prime movers behind the Education Funding Committee of New Jersey. There are few people in NJ who understand the arcana of NJ school finance better than Steve, and he's taken the time to tease the details out of the Governor's bill. Steve is a bit wordier and more detailed than me - my 1 second precis is that Corzine's plan turns Abbott v Burke on its head: Where Abbott attempts to raise the lowest performing school districts up to the level of the best-funded schools in NJ, the Governor's plan will bring all the schools in NJ down to the level of the worst of them.

Here's Steve's thumbnail description of the Education Funding Committee and its current goals:

The Education Funding Committee of New Jersey is a statewide organization that grew out of the efforts of the Education Funding Committee of South Orange-Maplewood, consisting of education and tax reform advocates throughout the state. We believe in a legislative process where legislators are fully informed about the impacts of what they're voting on, with adequate public disclosure and dialogue. We believe that the interests of educators and taxpayers should not be at odds, that it's possible to craft a system that moderates the rate of increase in education costs while at the same time protecting the quality of education in all districts. AND WE ARE FIRMLY CONVINCED THAT S4000/A500 DOESN'T ACCOMPLISH ANY OF THOSE GOALS!

Steve and the Education Funding Committee have been talking to everyone they know, and lobbying heavily, to stop S4000/A500. Some members of the Senate and Assembly are on board, but many more do not have the facts and are being rushed into a decision by Gov. Corzine. It's a difficult bill to get a handle on - the information needed to do so is spread all over the place and, without a solid grounding in school finance, difficult to get a grasp on. Steve has produced documents that help, and I hope some of my fellow BlueJersey-ans will read them and start talking to the people they know.

Here's an email that Steve sent out this morning, including links to his presentations. If you'd like to join the Education Funding mailing list, there's a sign-up form on the Education Funding Committee website at http://www.njschoolfunding.org

To: All NJ Legislators

From: Steve Latz, Education Funding Committee of New Jersey

Gov. Corzine's proposed school funding legislation is not all it's cracked up to be. Or should we say that it's more than meets the eye. It adversely impacts 50-75% of school districts in New Jersey (not just the Abbott districts, but school districts in YOUR legislative district as well).

Commissioner Davy has not reported these adverse impacts to you. This bill will drive taxes up and educational quality down in middle income and wealthy districts in years two and beyond. It's one reason why the DOE has gone to the NJ Supreme Court to avoid the Appellate Court's ruling that it must release all data with which its calculations were done and all runs of that data it conducted in the course of crafting its proposed formula.

Take just five minutes and look at our independent analysis of what happens to YOUR school districts and your constituents -- for the current year but most importantly in years two and beyond. Our Guide allows you an at-a-glance snapshot of adverse impacts on a school district by school district basis, grouped according to legislative district for your easy reference.

----> See our New Jersey Legislator's Guide to Adverse Effects of S4000/A500

at: http://www.njschoolfunding.org/NJLegislatorsGuideTo_S4000_A500.pdf

-----> See our Briefing for NJ Legislators

at: http://www.njschoolfunding.org/UpdateForNewJerseyLegislators-123007.pdf

You really need to read this and understand the hidden consequences for all your constituents. The implications of the bill for years two and beyond will drive local taxes up beyond the 4% tax levy cap while at the same time driving down the quality of education in middle income and wealthy districts (and damaging the quality of education in the Abbotts as well).

How can we say this: If you believe that this bill won't seriously damage most of your constituents, then WE'VE GOT A BRIDGE WE WANT TO SELL YOU (and a turnpike and parkway as well!). Click on the first link above to open the guide, scroll down to your legislative district and look at the indicators -- the Guide is in the form of a "Consumer Reports" review, except that in this case, the more BLACK DOTS there are in the Indicator Columns of the chart, the worse it is for your school districts.

Read the six pages at the front of the Guide to understand exactly why. Our analysis has been vetted by leading education finance and legal experts. It's all in the bill, but it's tough to tease out. And Gov. Corzine isn't teasing on this one. We welcome your calls or emails with questions or concerns.

Truth or Consequences

They didn't tell the whole truth and YOU suffer the consequences!

Most wealthy and middle income school districts suffer serious consequences in years two and beyond. Over half the districts in the state will experience little, if any, aid increases for the indefinite future, no matter how much additional money the administration proposes to add to education aid in the coming years. That is because the vast bulk of aid that wealthy and middle income districts received in the past was in the form of categorical aid that is now wealth-equalized. For every additional dollar of special education that is generated by the formula in years two and beyond, a "wealthy" district will see only $.33 on the dollar (the one-third of Special Education Aid that remains categorical).

Why? Because the two-thirds of that aid is now wealth-equalized means districts that currently receive no wealth-equalization aid (Core Curriculum Standards Aid in CEIFA) will in all likelihood receive none of the new bill's Equalization Aid.

This will drive local taxes up in those districts as an increasing share of education costs are borne by the local share. And there are exceptions and waivers in the tax levy cap provisions that will allow many districts to rightly exceed the 4% cap. See 18A:7f-37 through 18A:7f-40.

We support these cap adjustments and waivers as necessary mechanisms for school districts, but firmly believe that the state has to cover a reasonable overall share of the total and distribute it fairly, leaving no one out of the equation.

Please, take just FIVE minutes and look at our Guide to Adverse Effects of S4000/A500. It just may save you from a vote that you'll regret when the next election rolls around in two years.

Steve Latz
Education Funding Committee of New Jersey

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