Will Murphy administration in NJ finally unveil the math behind School funding formula? Court say they have to
It's been a years long fight by school districts across New Jersey, including here in Ocean and Monmouth Counties, to get back the state aid stripped away under the guidelines of the S2 School Funding Formula.
We've heard from local school leaders including in Toms River and Brick over the last few years on how this formula has dealt a crushing blow and dagger right through the heart of their budgets leading to layoffs, cuts, and trying to develop new plans on the fly to survive with little to no guidance coming from the state -- or any that is helpful in reaching the goal of restoring state aid.
We've also heard from lawmakers on the municipal and state levels representing the Ocean and Monmouth County schools impacted as well as law enforcement.
One of the other things to understand as well is the lower the school state aid, the higher your taxes may end up being in these S2 towns losing school state aid.
Funding aside for a moment, these school districts want answers from the state and transparency after dedicating time to develop plans with the information they had and becoming puzzled at times over what the state was saying about the S2 formula.
It's been a long, tiring journey, similar to Homer's Odyssey, as districts search for the way back to restoring school funding to schools deemed to have too much by the state.
The journey is not over but momentum may finally be shifting back over to Jersey Shore schools who have suffered the financial woes of S2.
On Monday, a Superior Court Judge in New Jersey explained that these districts -- six specifically -- won their case and the State Board of Education now has to share with them what codes they used, how they formed the state funding data, and how state tax dollars have been dolled out, according to a report from the Asbury Park Press.
The six districts who teamed up on the lawsuit against the state are Brick, Toms River, Jackson, Lacey, Freehold Regional, and Manalapan-Englishtown Regional.
This lawsuit by these six districts was born In January of 2021, with a judge ordering the NJDOE to hand over the information of the school funding formula so districts could independently look over the numbers.
When that didn't happen, they got back on the horse and tried again, filing a new lawsuit that went in their favor on Monday providing another court order which requires the State DOE to release coding language used to perform funding calculations.
Will the Murphy administration and New Jersey Board of Education hand over all the data, numbers, codes, etc. and be fully transparent? Will the hundreds of schools who've lost state aid ever get any restored?
Time will tell on the ladder, but Ocean County 10th District State Lawmakers -- Senator Jim Holzapfel, Assemblyman Greg McGuckin and Assemblyman John Catalano -- expect a 'yes' to the first question after what happened Monday in court.
“School districts like Brick and Toms River shouldn’t have to sue the Murphy administration to get a straight answer about why tens of millions of dollars of State aid were cut from their budgets,” Holzapfel said in a statement Tuesday. “The administration kept trying to deflect blame to the school funding formula, but they refused to let anyone see the actual formula or the data they used to determine aid calculations. The NJDOE’s complete and total lack of transparency has fueled the belief that the Murphy administration is hiding politically-motivated reductions in school aid to Republican districts.”
Toms River has been dealt the 2nd biggest hit to state aid in New Jersey and Brick isn't far behind on the list.
The 10th District Ocean County lawmakers point to the fact that since Murphy took office alone, the amount of State aid going to Toms River Schools has been cut from $66,975,394 to $49,724,966 with funding for Brick Schools dipping almost 20% this year, and getting reduced 37.9% overall during the governor's first term.
“The NJDOE distributes more than $9 billion a year in education aid to school districts annually, but they don’t want anyone to have the ability to verify that they’re splitting the money fairly,” McGuckin said in a statement. “Since school aid reductions are directly tied to property tax increases and cuts in teachers and programs, people have a legitimate interest in knowing their district is getting what it deserves. ”
Senator Holzapfel and Assembylmen McGuckin and Catalano want to ensure that the Monday court ruling is not the only way to ensure the state does what they are now ordered to be doing with the S2 formula as they've sponsored legislation that would require the NJDOE to release all of the data and the software program used to calculate school aid stemming from a bill, first introduced in 2020, and was reintroduced this month now being known as S-122.
“School districts wouldn’t have to waste taxpayer dollars on lawyers and lawsuits to achieve transparency in school funding if the Murphy administration wasn’t so secretive about everything,” Catalano said. “Since Governor Murphy refuses to be open and honest with taxpayers, our legislation is necessary to shed some light on the dark inner workings of his administration.”