Stabilization Aid a Step to Fairer School Funding

By Vin Gopal

Asbury Park Press, February 12, 2023

When the state Department of Education recently announced the release of stabilization aid to 16 Monmouth County school districts, it was good news for taxpayers as well as students and educators.

I was proud to see my sponsorship of $30 million in stabilization aid for districts losing funding due to declining enrollment has just been released by the state Department of Education. Six districts in our area have been awarded.

This money was appropriated in the 2023 state budget as a result of bipartisan efforts in the Legislature to correct the impact of changes in the state’s school funding formula that left many towns underfunded for years because of enrollment changes. The stabilization aid also reduces the burden on municipal taxpayers as education costs usually account for more than half of their local property taxes.

The districts receiving the stabilization aid, including six in my legislative district, LD11, were among those hardest hit by S2, the education overhaul legislation passed in 2018 that resulted in major shifts in public education funding for hundreds of districts statewide beginning in 2019. S2 redistributed millions of dollars in state aid from districts with declining enrollments to those boosting their numbers. The recently announced release of stabilization aid will help them stabilize their finances without cutting vital student programs.

But there is much left to do.

The Senate Education Committee continues to look at the state school funding formula to come up with a way of distributing aid to local districts that is fairer to students and less of a burden to local property taxpayers. Local school taxes account for more than half of property tax bills for most homeowners. As Governor Murphy said when announcing the first stabilization aid in 2020, “school funding is property tax relief.”

Many school districts received the same or more state aid as a result of S2, but dozens of Monmouth and Ocean county communities lost millions of dollars in funding. From cutting sports programs to closing schools, they fought to make up for the lost funding. As we work to build a more equitable school funding system, we need to make sure that student programs aren’t left on the cutting room floor. It’s gratifying to see some of our long-underfunded districts receive the resources they need for their students to excel and remain competitive with fast growing states.

The New Jersey Department of Education released stabilization aid for six towns in my legislative district, LD-11, in the state’s fiscal year 2023 budget: Asbury Park is receiving $678,526; Eatontown, $282,180; Freehold Regional, $786,600, Monmouth Regional, $610,000; Neptune City, $450,131, and Ocean Township, $1,269,450. They are among 16 Monmouth County towns that felt the brunt of the controversial S2 school funding formula cuts by the state for years that are now receiving some aid to help stabilize their districts. (A full list of Monmouth County districts and the aid they received is below.)

Last year, the state Senate unanimously passed my bill, S354, which would establish the School Funding Formula Evaluation Task Force to study, evaluate, and assess the provision of state school aid set out in the School Funding Reform Act of 2008. The task force would bring members of the public with educational experience and expertise in education and municipal finance and school budgeting, as well as the DOE Commissioner, to the re-examination of how we fund schools. The task force would examine areas including the current methodology used to calculate the geographic cost adjustment as well as the use of the census-based funding methodology for determining the amount of state aid a school district receives to educate its special education population. I’m hoping the Assembly acts on the bill in the months ahead.

As we move toward a fairer process of funding public education, we can’t afford to leave any district behind. New Jersey students in underfunded districts badly need and deserve a fix to our broken school funding system. Property taxpayers need it, too.