Safely reopening schools amid the pandemic will require big spending. When, or if, it goes ahead, it will necessitate investment in personal protective equipment, upgrades in technology, additional transportation and a wholesale (and potentially costly) reorganization of staffing and school buildings. For New Jersey, these challenges are set against a backdrop of school funding that has not recovered since the Great Recession of 2007-2009.
A report released Monday by New Jersey Policy Perspective, the left-leaning think tank, points out that “the percentage of New Jersey’s economy devoted to school funding has declined sharply since 2009, leaving fewer revenues available to the state’s districts.” It found that total state and local education funding as a percentage of personal income peaked in 2009 at 4.5% but subsequently declined steadily to 3.71% in 2017, the last year for which data is available. Furthermore, the greatest cuts were in high-poverty school districts.
The authors suggest that hoping for immediate federal assistance to cover increased education costs might not be realistic. Their prescription? Tax and suspend: “First, New Jersey should raise income tax rates on its wealthiest residents” to help fund schools, and, “Second, New Jersey can suspend sending state aid to its most affluent school districts — the districts that have greater property wealth and, therefore, are more able to raise revenues themselves through local property taxes.”