Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Christie Should Focus on School Choice Ahead of Funding Formulas

In a New Jersey Star-Ledger op-ed last summer, Star-Ledger writer Paul Mulshine took up an issue that has been permeating NJ politics for years—state aid the local school districts. In Steve Sweeney could pass his school-funding reforms; instead he's creating a commission, Mulshine wrote,

For years [state Sen. Mike Doherty has] been touting what he called his "Fair School Funding Plan." It calls for state school aid, which is raised through the income tax, to be distributed equally so every student in New Jersey is back by the same amount.

Chris Christie recently purloined that plan and renamed it "The Fairness Formula." Doherty didn't mind the theft. He's just glad to see the governor make that plan the centerpiece of the 2017 elections when all 120 legislative seats will be up for grabs.

The Republicans are pushing for the plan to be put on the ballot as a constitutional amendment so the voters can decide the issue.

"This is the flagship issue," said Doherty. "If you want any property-tax relief in your lifetime this is the chance to do it."

Doherty's reasoning is simple. School funding is provided through the income tax, which is progressive. But the current distribution formula is also progressive.

That means the taxpayers in a suburb like Bernards Township get back a mere 3 cents in school aid for every dollar they pay in income tax.

Under Christie's plan the tax would still be collected progressively but it would be distributed equally, with every student in the state backed up by $6,599 in annual state aid.

I left these comments, focussing on a larger issue:

In 2010, his first year in office—in his Keynote Address to the American Federation for Children—Christie called school choice a “unique moment” in American politics. He then went on record for universal school choice. He said the Opportunity Scholarship Act that he supported would only be a "first step" that would lead to the day when "choice is available to every parent and every child... across the state of NJ."

I favor fairer school funding. I think his plan is a good one—equal funding for each child. Who could disagree with that? But I wish Christie had chosen to spend his last year political capital trying to make good on his promise to bring universal school choice to NJ. I wish he’d started last year rather than run for president. I wish he would have made that a leading goal of his every year. If successful, what a great legacy that would have been.

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