Home Government Opinion: Survival of N.J.’s Middle Class Hinges on Fair School Funding

Opinion: Survival of N.J.’s Middle Class Hinges on Fair School Funding

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School Lockers (Photo: Rafael Castillo/ Flickr)
School Lockers (Photo: Rafael Castillo/ Flickr)

Gov. Chris Christie’s proposal this week to equalize school funding for all New Jersey public school students may be the best, last hope for the survivability of our state’s middle class.

Saddled with annual property tax bills approaching an average of nearly $10,000, working families have been fleeing New Jersey for greener pastures for years. For those who have stayed, their cost of living has risen to the point where many are one tax hike away from being unable to afford the homes in which they live. Employers, likewise, have fled. Small businesses struggle to survive, and young people remain living at home with their parents well into their 20s because life in the Garden State is simply unaffordable.

There is a sense of hopelessness among the state’s population that things will never improve. Fair School Funding provides that hope. As it currently stands nearly 65 percent of the state’s entire education budget is provided to 31 school districts while the remaining 560 compete for the scraps. Some districts receive no state aid at all. In Brick Township – which has an increasing population of special needs students – the number of teachers is being reduced even as taxes are still on the rise. The same goes for many other districts in Ocean County; Toms River and Lacey will also see significant cuts this year.

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Equalizing state aid to each student in each school is essential to breaking the cycle of decline among the middle class in New Jersey. Property tax levies would be reduced by millions of dollars – as much as $28.1 million in Brick, according to state data. Homeownership, the most tangible symbol of the American dream, would be opened up to more working families, more families would be able to keep their homes in New Jersey and remain closer to relatives who provide a necessary support system, and teachers would be more secure in their positions and face significantly less public pressure on pension and benefits packages.

Equalizing school funding would mean that urban school districts, which have been showered in billions of dollars worth of government largesse on the backs of suburban working families, would need to cut their budgets. Perhaps Olympic sized pools and veritable palaces of school buildings would no longer be able to be built in places like Neptune, and perhaps some services would have to be scaled back. But what difference would it make? For three decades, the billions of dollars have not improved urban school districts in New Jersey. If anything, New Jersey’s school funding formula offers the most compelling proof in the American educational sector that money does not solve the woes of dysfunctional, gang-infested, corrupt urban areas. Draining the state education budget and, in the process, making life unaffordable for millions of struggling families in our suburban communities, has done nothing to improve the lives of young people in Newark, Camden or Paterson. It has, however, ushered in an era of extreme financial pressure, dwindling employment prospects, and increased substance abuse in our suburban communities.

New Jersey’s present school funding formula is a vivid illustration of the concept of a “race to the bottom.” Fair School Funding would, first and foremost, reduce property taxes in suburban communities, but it would also spur economic growth, keep families in their homes and open up new opportunities for our young people. Parents, teachers and recent college graduates hoping to start a family must support Fair School Funding, lest we affirm the beliefs of some that the Millennials will become a lost generation.

It may, indeed, take a village to raise a child. State officials need to understand that in New Jersey, the villages are dying.


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  • KaayC

    Wow! What a well thought, well-written, valid article. Kudos, Patch staff.

    • Goodgrief

      Psssst KaayC, This is not Patch. It is the Brick Shorebeat.

      • Mark Story Jenks

        There is a tremendous difference. The editor, Daniel Nee did work for Patch before he started this Brick Shorebeat.
        This is the best source for local news.
        Patch is old news.

      • KaayC

        Point taken! Kudos to Shotebeat staff writers!

      • KaayC

        I see same articles on both though. I guess they are syndicated?

      • Hi KaayC – No syndication. Everything here is original. Patch does run some articles on the same topics we do, but you’ll find more local articles here and a larger array of topics. We also like to avoid the “clickbait” and filler they publish so our readers have a better, clearer experience. There were some good years at Patch, but after the company was sold, things went south. I launched Shorebeat about six months after that.

      • Goodgrief

        Daniel what is the second site? I am only aware of Brick and searching these pages do not find another site mentioned. Thanks

      • Brandy the Dog

        Hi Goodgrief, long time. There is also a Lavallette- Seaside Shorebeat.
        I’ll have to come back later on this topic to make my comment, but I’m afraid most will not agree with me on this, since I’m originally from and taught in an Abbott school district. BUT, I feel this editorial does make many valid points.

      • Goodgrief

        Thank you Brandy. Got there!

      • Goodgrief

        Mark, I thought Daniel did cover Brick for the Old Patch but started his own news system when Patch downsized.

  • Glenn

    Agree, but I’m still moving to FL when my new house is done.

    • KaayC

      I like Fl., but the gators creep me out. Much better housing, roads, shopping and taxes though!

    • J W

      I’ve never understood why people like FL. The alligators worry me more than ever now. The psycho methheads and rednecks worry me too. Then there are the hurricanes. Oh, and no porkroll. Just a lot of chain stores and crap. I’ll deal with the snow and high taxes thank you very much.

      • KaayC

        Uh…..then there was Sandy. No place exempt from weather any more right, JW?

      • J W

        Florida gets a Sandy or two every year, of greater size no less. I’ll deal with one every 20 years on average even if global warming increases their frequency.

      • Glenn

        ” The psycho methheads and rednecks worry me too. ” Oh NJ is free of these!

      • J W

        We don’t have a meth problem up here. Heroin, yes. But dopers just slowly kill themselves for the most part, maybe rob a car every now and then. Meth heads go psycho and raise hell. You do that when you can go a month without sleep.

      • Glenn

        Drugs are everywhere of course. Why do you think there is more meth in FL then here.

      • J W

        Meth is more of a Southern and Western thing. It’s preferred by the trailer park dwelling classes in those region. We don’t have those people here. Just a lot of rich white kids abusing rx pills.

      • Glenn

        Yeah, none on Rt. 88 or 70. The areas you refer to though are in the more rural areas, I believe.
        Thanks for the info, but I don’t think those areas apply to the barrier island area we will be moving to, but the gators are an issue! I’ll be sure to have animal control number on my cell.

      • KaayC

        Rich? In Brick? Methinks not.

  • J W

    If you think that poor urban school districts are bad now (they’ve come a long way in Newark, Patterson and New Brunswick- maybe not Camden and Salem County), wait until you slash their budgets in half. I’m sure that will solve all your problems. We’re all in this together. The responsible thing to do is for the state to fund schools adequately through a uniform system of property taxation across the state. But they wouldn’t do that.

  • Thomas A. Mathis

    Florida is way more user friendly than New Jersey. Cheaper real estate taxes. Each town has the clerk handle licenses and vehicle registrations and you are in and out in 20 minutes. There is no state income tax. CCW licenses are easy to get and cheap. Firearm laws are reasonable. Beer & wine in grocery and 7-11 type stores. Liquor licenses do not cost a king’s ransom.
    A negative is that driving in the left hand lane is like a plague. From what I can see there is no law against it that works.