Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Jennifer Beck: Take Politics Out of State Aid (Unless Monmouth County Benefits)

Senator Jennifer Beck has again released misleading statements on state aid in an incoherent,
analytically incomplete op-ed where she defends Adjustment Aid, criticizes attempts to redistribute it from most districts, and yet says that the state should help districts that have had surging enrollment.  

There aren’t a lot of details being provided on [Sweeney's] plan, but estimates suggest that it could end up costing Monmouth County schools over $100 million in state school aid. This plan, if estimates are true, isn’t a fair or equitable solution to our school funding crisis.\ 
In New Jersey, we are supposed to fund our schools in a way that gives all of our children an opportunity to succeed. We all know the problems that exist under the current school funding program: 
It’s led to municipalities like Jersey City, which has the tax base to support their local schools but underfunds them by $255 million — while pocketing more than $418 million a year in state aid. 
It’s led to New Jersey underfunding schools where student enrollment has exploded. In fact, state aid for our schools has remained essentially flat since the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) was enacted in 2008, leaving property taxpayers on the hook to pay more. For example, Freehold Borough is 527 students over capacity and Red Bank’s enrollment has grown by 267 in the last five years. But the state has not pulled its weight.
It’s led to a system where 421 school districts throughout the state overpay in property taxes to fund their schools. Property taxpayers are paying more than they need to because the state has failed to live up to its end of the deal. In Ocean Township, local taxpayers are paying $8 million more in property taxes for their schools than they are required to by the state....
While I am grateful to see that some of our [meaning Monmouth County's] underfunded schools would be among those that get more funding (because they need it), I noted that his area seems to be getting quite a bit more than Monmouth County and other counties. Politics can’t play any part of such an important process that impacts both our property taxes and our children’s education.

What Beck is saying is that she doesn't want "politics" to impact property taxes and education unless Monmouth County benefits.

Admittedly, Beck is correct that Monmouth County would be a net loser in any likely aid redistribution.

FIRST, for 2017-18, Monmouth County has 26 districts with a grand total of $99.7 in excess aid, but Beck omits multiple key facts on that, Monmouth County also has 28 underaided districts with a total deficit of $51.9 million.  These underaided districts include poorer districts including Freehold Boro, Red Bank Boro, and Long Branch,  plus some middle-income and affluent districts including Rumson-Fair Haven, Holmdel, and Freehold Township.

SECOND, half of the $99.7 million in excess aid in Monmouth County only goes to two districts, Asbury Park and Freehold Regional, each of whom has $25 million in excess aid.

Asbury Park's state aid exceeds $24,000 per student, of which nearly $11,300 per student in excess of SFRA's target.  Asbury Park's grotesque state aid amount has led to to PILOT virtually all of its new development, for a grand total of perhaps $1 billion in hidden PILOTed wealth.

THIRD, many of the aid-losing districts in Monmouth County are resort towns on the Atlantic Ocean that have gigantic tax bases relative to their student populations.

Belmar has $29,571 in Local Fair Share per student. Lake Como has $23,424 per student. Deal has $98,708. Allenhurst has an astronomical $1,706,505 per student.

Several of the non-resort towns have large tax bases too.  Tinton Falls has $19,550 per student in Local Fair Share.  Henry Hudson Regional has $23,262 per student. Middletown has $16,405 per student.  

FOURTH, more than $2 million of that excess is in Interdistrict Choice money that is not subject to redistribution.  This Choice money mostly goes to Deal, which gets $1.8 million alone.  (Monmouth County's total Choice Aid is over $3 million, but some of that goes to districts who are still underaided despite that infusion).

FIFTH, New Jersey is the country's most indebted state.  Thus, the state cannot increase K-12 aid very much and so budgeting is zero-sum.  The more aid hoarding that Jennifer Beck can preserve, the less new aid there is available to NJ's underaided districts, including Red Bank and Freehold Boros.

Beck also says she favors some redistribution, but says we should start with the statutorily overaided districts for whom the existing statute of SFRA allows aid reductions.  These are 46 districts who, despite Adjustment Aid, get more money than the SFRA dictates they should due to post-2008 enrollment loss.

Let’s start the reform with the 46 school districts that are overfunded in state dollars.

Ok, that's a good idea and is better than nothing, but barely.  These 46 districts only get $11 million total in extra aid.  

And silliest of all, Beck says at her conclusion what she had already said a few paragraphs previously:

Any school funding reform plan should be one where decisions aren’t based on politics, but rather on what is best for our students, parents, taxpayers and teachers.
Decisions aren't based on politics?

What on earth is Beck herself doing but appealing to the naked self-interest of Monmouth County itself?  

Although SFRA is complex, Sweeney's plan is quite simple: to give each district in New Jersey 100% of its recommended funding, no more, no less.  

That's not politics, that's justice according the old definition of equal treatment under law.  

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