The Fairness Formula’s impact on Union County

UNION COUNTY, NJ — New Jersey schools and Gov. Chris Christie haven’t mixed in the past, and with Christie’s proposed Fairness Formula, all districts will receive the same amount of state aid per pupil. Each pupil will receive $6,599 in state aid per year, resulting in the areas with larger populations to receive the most amount of money in state aid regardless of financial need or location. This means that some districts will save significant amounts in property tax dollars. It also means that Abbott School districts will lose a lot of state funding.

Here’s a look at annual property tax savings under the Fairness Formula for the average household in Union County: Berkeley Heights $2,274; Clark $2,151; Cranford $2,507; Fanwood $2,700; Garwood $1,498; Kenilworth $921; Linden $691; Mountainside $2,027; New Providence $3,232; Rahway $247; Roselle Park $642; Scotch Plains $3,139; Springfield $1,944; Summit $3,261; Union $720; Westfield $3,684.

Implementation of the formula would mean the loss of millions of dollars for some districts under Christie’s proposed plan. For example, the city of Elizabeth will lose $7,637.88 per student in state aid which, is a 54 percent decrease. Roselle will lose $2,348.08 per student, which would be a 27 percent decrease. Hillside will lose $361.76 per student, which is a five percent decrease.

Abbott districts such as these came about in 1981 as a result of the lawsuit Abbott v. Burke that conceived the 1975 Public School Education Act was unconstitutional because poorer urban public school districts could not adequately meet the educational needs without increasing funding. According to figures released by Christie’s office, the 31 Abbott school districts will have cost taxpayers $97 billion since 1985, compared to $88.3 billion spent on the remaining 546 school districts, resulting in 52 percent of state education money going to five percent of the school districts.

Wealthier communities such as Scotch Plains and New Providence will have the highest increase in state aid. New Providence will receive an additional $6,102.25, per student, a 1,534 percent increase. Scotch Plains will receive an increase of 5,949.91 per student, which is a 1,082 percent increase. The majority of municipalities in Union County will receive additional funding, but is this at the expense of other districts who might really need the money?

“I haven’t heard of the Fairness Formula,” said DeLana Bannister of Scotch Plains. “I would have to read more about it in order to give an informed opinion, but I know I would rather pay more in property taxes if it meant that more students would receive a better education.”

Supporters of the initiative say that it would benefit students.
“Nothing is more fair than treating students equally no matter where they live. This plan will help relieve property taxpayers throughout the state and I will fight to get the governor’s plan enacted. I look forward to sponsoring it in the legislature,” said Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick in a recent press release.

Supporters also point out the fact that student spending does not necessarily equal student success.

“This is a significant step in the right direction for school students across the state. The Governor’s fair plan assures fair funding and educational opportunity to all of our children. More spending has never improved the quality of education. While the plan promotes educational fairness, it also lowers New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes,” said Assemblyman Sean Kean in a recent press release.

New Jersey Education Association claimed the new proposal was just a way for Christie to divert attention from the state’s failed education policies. They are also questioning whether the plan is even constitutional, as it specifically violates Abbott v. Burke.

“As a taxpayer, I would love to save property tax dollars,” said Mildred Wallack of Scotch Plains. “However, as a former teacher, I want to help the poorer school districts. I also question how this would affect the overall economy. Also if we take money from the poorer areas, I’m afraid it will increase the crime rate. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw an increase in the amount of robberies as well as alcohol and drug abuse. Sometimes I do wonder why I’m paying so much in school tax dollars when I don’t have any children attending public schools, but I still feel this may not be the best plan.”

Christie is under a lot of pressure to cut property taxes, and the Fairness Formula would cut taxes for homeowners across most of the state and more specifically, in Union County. Nonetheless, the plan must prove that it holds up amid significant political and legal opposition.