We need to work together to fix education funding

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By Parker Space

In April, I had to opportunity to meet with Carla Mancuso, president of the High Point Education Association.

With the cuts in state education funding that is affecting school districts throughout Sussex and Warren Counties, it is recognized that the time for fighting amongst ourselves is counterproductive and that we need to work together to bring about change in Trenton.

Senator Steve Oroho, Assemblyman Hal Wirths, and I voted against these changes to the school funding formula which resulted in the aid cuts (S-2). The funding cuts to local school districts when the formula change is fully phased in over the next six years will total $40 million less annually.

Since Governor Murphy has taken office it has been an assault on our school districts. The governor likes to talk about ‘tax fairness’, but there’s nothing fair about taking resources from one school district who under the Abbott decisions have been underfunded anyway and giving it to another, increasing the local property tax burden, and not doing anything to cure the underlying problem of a flawed school funding formula.

My wife and I attended and graduated from public schools in Sussex County as did our three children, so this issue is personal to me.

Before my service in the legislature, the loss of school aid led to visible protests and outrage, but most of those voices have been silenced, because unfortunately, they see this solely as a Republican vs. Democrat issue. They are missing the big picture — this is a rural and suburban issue verses the urbanized areas of the state.

I am delighted that Carla has recognized this and wants to assist us in fighting for a fairer school funding formula. We do not have to agree on everything; it is the conversations that we are having together that are important in order to come to an understanding of how working together to create opportunities to fix a broken system.

In the upcoming budget battles, Carla, and other like-minded teachers who don’t care about partisan politics, wants to help Steve, Hal, and I fight for our district.

Some of the changes we would like to see are short-term this year and long-term for our future.

Concerning this year’s budget which is due on July 1, Steve, Hal, and I would like to see the Geographic Cost Adjustment equal for all school districts. This numerical factor in the current school funding discriminates against rural school districts and by changing it would increase aid to Sussex and Warren counties.

We would also like to see the state cover the costs for extraordinary aid for special education, which will run approximately $193 million in the upcoming fiscal year.

In addition, we’d like to ease the criteria to allow more emergency funding for districts in need. 35 of 48 applications for emergency funding were rejected in the current fiscal year with the state only disbursing $6.8 million in emergency aid. In Fiscal Year 2018 under the previous administration, $21.4 million was disbursed including $971,743 for 10 districts in Sussex and Warren counties. This almost negated the $1 million cut made in the Democrats’ budget that year for districts here.

In the long term, Senator Oroho has been involved with a package of school funding reform initiatives developed by Senate Republicans called “Every Child Counts.” Assemblyman Wirths and I have sponsored over 90 bills to combat high property taxes including reforms to school funding and education spending.

Dialogue and conversation between all of our stakeholders here in Sussex and Warren Counties – students, taxpayers, educators, school officials and your elected representatives — should lead to us working together to have our voices heard. Because we need to stand together across the state from rural and suburban districts and say we are not going to take it anymore of having 60% of our state aid going to 31 districts — the state should treat a kid from Sussex or Hardwick equal to a kid from Hoboken or Gloucester City. Steve, Hal and I welcome Carla’s support in this battle and I am asking everyone to do the same. Please reach out to my office at AsmSpace@njleg.org.

Assemblyman Parker Space represents the 24th District which is all of Sussex County and parts of Warren and Morris Counties.

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