By Ian Linker
School funding is a significant issue in New Jersey. The question is: How can lawmakers in Trenton most equitably distribute income tax revenue so that students get the best education for the money.
The current formula is needs-based so the cities and towns with lower per capita income receive significantly more state money per student than municipalities with higher per capita income. Thus, the resulting distribution of funds is skewed in favor of lower income school systems.
The current formula is undoubtedly flawed. What we need is a school funding system that resembles the legislation sponsored and widely touted by state Sen. Michael Doherty (R – 23), in which the amount a local school system receives from Trenton would be proportional, i.e., the same, per student regardless of the per capita income of the recipient system and importantly would remove the judiciary from the school funding process through constitutional amendment. While this sounds great on paper, it preserves the system that has failed our children in that it protects the bureaucracy by keeping state funds in municipality hands and continues to deprive parents of their freedom to send their children to the best-performing schools. The legislation also does not address the need to reform how education is delivered to students in New Jersey or the need to eliminate waste and inefficiency in the system.
But proportional per student funding from the state is the right premise. Instead of giving a flat sum to the municipalities, however, Trenton should give the sum directly to parents in the form of a scholarship or voucher to let parents choose where to send their children to school.
We are all born free. This is America’s founding principle. We are free to live, free to pursue our dreams without unnecessary interference from government, and free to live how we choose as long as we do not interfere with another’s freedom. Given these freedoms, parents must be free to send their children to quality schools even if the school is outside their local school system or is a private school.
Asm. Anthony Bucco (R – Morris) and Asm. Michael Patrick Carroll (R – Morris) have sponsored legislation that would do precisely that. The New Jersey Parental Rights Act (S2914/A4033) would give children a scholarship or voucher that they can use to attend certain pre-qualified schools if their parents choose to send them there. This legislation would preserve freedom and would also inject some badly needed competition into the local school systems. If a school cannot provide quality education services, it should close so it can no longer continue producing poor students. As an aside, the federal government should pass similar school choice legislation for the Washington, D.C. metropolitan school system.
There is little question that many New Jersey schools have failed and continue to fail their students and their communities. Part of the reason: schools and teachers need to be more accountable for their students’ performance and administration costs are crippling the school systems.
Teacher tenure is an outdated system and does nothing to help teachers achieve their goal: to provide students with a quality education that will prepare them for the next grade. Tenure should no longer obstruct school systems from holding teachers accountable for their students’ performance. To ensure our students receive the best from their schools and teachers, principals’ and teachers’ compensation should be tied directly to student performance. If a school’s students are consistently prepared to advance to the next grade, the principal and teachers should receive performance enhancements in the form of higher-than-market salary increases or bonuses. But if a school’s students consistently fail and are not prepared to advance, then the principal and teacher should receive little, if any, salary increases and ultimately they should be let go if they cannot deliver a quality education to our children.
It would be premature to change the school funding formula without first addressing state wide the waste and inefficiency in school administration. Newark’s school system, for instance, has hundreds of administrators each making six-figures. This is grossly excessive and must change. In addition, dozens of villages and towns throughout the state have separate school systems, each with its own administration, its own board of education, its own superintendent, its own administrative staff, overhead, and offices, etc. There is much room for savings and consolidation in these areas.
These measures should be part of a broad education reform initiative. Trenton should proportionally fund education but it needs to deliver the funds directly to students through their parents and give parents the choice of where to send their children to school. We also need to reform how we deliver education to our children by holding teachers and principals accountable for student performance. And we should eliminate waste and duplication state wide as part of a broader effort to reform education in New Jersey.
Ian Linker is a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from New Jersey.
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