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Public Hearings — as Many as 9 — Planned on School Funding

Democrats Sweeney and Prieto will pursue individual approaches to funding reform

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Get ready to hear a lot more about school funding in New Jersey.

This week will start what could amount to nine separate public hearings in the next month about the state of school funding for New Jersey’s public schools, all driven by the somewhat fractured Democratic leadership of the Legislature.

The first is scheduled for today before the Joint Committee for the Public Schools, a hearing that has long been on the docket.

The next day will be the initial hearing before the Assembly’s education committee at 10 a.m. on Wednesday in the State House. Another is planned before a new Senate select committee next week, on January 27, at Kingsway Regional High School in Woolwich at 11 a.m. The next three have yet to be scheduled.

And this is all before Gov. Chris Christie unveils his state budget for fiscal 2017, in which a third of state spending will be aid to schools. It’s anyone’s guess as to what he will put forward.

Christie has been pushing to scuttle the state’s current formula-driven funding plan, instead providing the same amount of state aid per pupil for every district, no matter the need.

It’s hard to get a sense of the value of all the hearings, but Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto have said they want to take the lead on the issue and have pursued their separate tracks.

“It’s unacceptable that state government has gone years without properly funding a constitutional school-funding formula, hurting both children and property taxpayers. It’s time to revisit that process, but we need input and opinions from experts and taxpayers across the state,” Prieto said in a statement on Friday.

“The Assembly is ready to start the hard work of finding a solution that’s fair to taxpayers, school districts, and children across the state,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sweeney announced the formation of a select committee to lead his hearings, including top voices on the issue from both sides of the aisle. With Sweeney as chair, the committee will also include Sens. Joseph Pennacchio, Teresa Ruiz, Sandra Cunningham, Paul Sarlo, Steven Oroho, Michael Doherty, and Samuel Thompson.

“The flaws in the school aid system have caused a growing crisis in state funding that is leaving a large number of school districts without the funds they need and should be receiving,” Sweeney said in his own announcement.

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