Website Spotlight: School Funding NJ

John Mooney | August 3, 2011 | Education
Senate Democrats launch website that takes the measure of state aid under the Christie administration

What It Is: New Jersey’s Senate Democrats have launched a website that allows users to determine how much every New Jersey school district has gained or lost in state aid under Gov. Chris Christie. It also compares how each district would have fared under the budget proposed by the legislature’s Democratic leadership. That proposal called for the full funding of the School Funding Reform Act of 2008. Christie vetoed that provision.

What It Means: The website is no doubt a political instrument, timed for the upcoming legislative elections and putting in stark graphics the drop in state aid to individual districts under the Republican governor. It is meant to counter Christie’s claims that he has actually increased state aid overall in 18 months. But Christie’s office points out that the site fails to mention the $1 billion in federal stimulus money that was lost last year, as well as the $600 billion millionaires’ tax that the Democrats proposed this year to fully fund every district.

The truth: Actually both claims are true, each in its own way. The Democrats’ website uses accurate numbers to lay out what each district received in the last year under former Gov. Jon Corzine and since then under Christie. And a vast majority of districts are indeed getting less than they did two years ago. But when the $447 million ordered by the state Supreme Court for the 31 most impoverished districts –and ultimately agreed upon by Christie — is added in, overall funding to all districts combined has risen slightly from what was appropriated under Corzine.

The spin, first from the Democrats: “Governor Christie claims that the budget he just signed will restore the cuts he has made to our schools since taking office. He is way off base. The schools that have seen their funding restored are few and far between. Hundreds of districts across New Jersey — representing millions of property taxpayers — will still receive less under Chris Christie than before he came into office.” — Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), on

Then the governor: “I have to go back and look at the website. I don’t know what it is. Here’s all I know: We’re spending more money today on K-to-12 education at the state level than we did when I became Governor. And that’s in light of the fact that last year I had to make an $820 million cut because Jon Corzine left me with an $11 billion budget deficit. But I’ve returned all that money this year plus an additional $30 million because governing is choosing.” — Christie at August 1 press conference.

A little techno-governing: This is the second website that Sweeney’s office has built around a big policy issue. The first one was on pension and health benefit reform. And of course, Christie is famous for his own YouTube moments. “I’m glad Steve’s working on the web, that’s good,” Christie said Monday. “We’re all getting 21st century on each other. So it will be really, really fun.”

Something you didn’t know: For all the talk about fully funding school districts under the 2008 law, the Democrats’ run of the numbers found 23 districts actually receiving more money this year than they would have if fully funded under the School Reform Funding Act (SFRA). The Democrats are quick to point out that they are mostly wealthy — and, by inference, Republican — districts, including places like Sparta, Harding and Colt’s Neck.