Senate President Steve Sweeney on Saturday announced proposed legislation to give school districts relief from the 2% tax levy cap for the purpose of achieving “adequacy” under the state’s school funding system. Sweeney said that the legislation would be introduced within the next few weeks.
Sweeney made the announcement during a presentation to the NJSBA Delegate Assembly at Mercer County Community College on Nov. 23. In addition, he cited the need for periodic, five-year reviews of the state’s School Funding Reform Act, to ensure its accuracy and effectiveness and to make the law “a living document.”
A Roadblock The 2% cap, which went into effect three years after the implementation of the School Funding Reform Act of 2008, tightened restrictions on local school tax levy increases. It has been a roadblock to districts reaching their “local share,” that is, the amount of locally raised funding called for by SFRA and which is often necessary to attain “adequacy.” (Adequacy is the level of spending that the school funding act deems necessary to achieve an “adequate” or “thorough and efficient” education.)
The situation has been particularly difficult for districts facing reductions in state aid as a result of the scheduled school funding adjustments under Senate Bill 2, enacted last year. These changes in aid—increases and reductions—are designed to attain fidelity with the funding act, according to the sponsors of S-2. They will be implemented through 2024-2025.
NJSBA Advocacy In recent weeks, the NJSBA Governmental Relations staff has been discussing cap relief with Senator Sweeney’s staff. In addition, NJSBA and other members of Leadership for Educational Excellence, a coalition of the state’s major educational organizations, issued a joint letter to Governor Murphy, Senate President Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and other legislative leaders, calling for the cap adjustment.
“Leadership for Educational Excellence believes that the adjustments…would help maintain educational programming throughout the state while enabling all school districts to move toward the SFRA’s goal of adequate funding for the education of all children,” states the letter, dated Nov. 6.
“NJSBA thanks Senator Sweeney for his support for cap relief,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director, following the Delegate Assembly.
“We genuinely appreciate Senator Sweeney’s willingness to address the delegates about the many policy issues facing public schools,” he continued. “The dialogue at the meeting provided important information both for our members and for the Senate President.”
Delegates Approve Cap Policy, Study The Delegate Assembly is the twice-yearly meeting of the NJSBA membership, which sets the Association’s policies on educational issues. Saturday’s assembly attracted over 240 attendees, including 162 voting delegates.
Prior to Senator Sweeney’s presentation, the delegates had overwhelmingly approved additional NJSBA policy, proposed by the Hillsborough Board of Education in September, which explicitly expresses support for cap adjustments. The new policy states the following:
“The NJSBA believes that in instances where districts cannot meet their local share, per the state funding formula, those districts may be allowed to exceed statutory levy caps to meet the local share.”
Taking advantage of such an adjustment would be at the discretion of the local board of education.
In moving the resolution, Hillsborough delegate Jean Trujillo described the impact of programming cuts facing the school district, which will experience deep reductions in state aid.
“We are asking for the ability to help ourselves,” she said, explaining the rationale behind the cap adjustments.
The delegates approved the proposed policy by a vote of 130 to 29.
In addition, the Hillsborough delegate moved a proposal that the NJSBA School Finance Committee study the method for calculating and implementing the wealth calculation used by the funding formula to determine a district’s local share. The proposal is in line with the recommendation of the NJSBA Resolutions Subcommittee, which reviews all items submitted to the Delegate Assembly agenda.
By a vote of 144-11, the delegates approved the School Finance Committee study. Results of the study, including any policy recommendations, will be presented to a future Delegate Assembly.