The methods to address it may be different but one thing is certain: New Jersey has a school-funding problem.

This week, the leadership of both houses in the legislature took steps to address the shortfalls and shortcomings in New Jersey’s school funding formula.  The full Senate approved Senate President Sweeney’s resolution establishing the “Senate Select Committee on School Funding Fairness”.  In the Assembly, Speaker Prieto announced that the Assembly Education Committee would be gathering input from education groups and then convening three public hearing across the state.  At the same time, there is  widespread speculation about what Governor Christie’s final budget message in February will mean for schools across the state.

The methods to address it may be different but one thing is certain: New Jersey has a school-funding problem.  The fact is the State has not fully funded the school funding formula created under the 2008 School Funding Reform Act.  Years of flat funding, shifts in enrollment, demographics and wealth patterns, and limited resources have put ALL school districts in an ever-increasing financial squeeze.  

Charter schools and traditional district schools are both public schools and both (along with other types of public schools) have suffered from the inability to properly fund our schools.

Last week, charter school critics held a  press conference outside of the Department of Education claiming that charter school expansion has been the driver of district budget woes.  That erroneous and misleading line of thinking misses the point about what has happened and what needs to happen.

As education advocates who are or should be advocating for ALL students, we can’t turn on each other and try to destroy fellow public school families.   Instead we need to advocate together to identify adequate funding sources and solutions so that every schoolwhether a charter or a traditional schoolhas the proper funds to succeed.  What is lost in the debate is that we have not adequately addressed the broader school funding issues facing all of our public schools, including charter schools.

Public school families are fighting over scarce resources, and the reality is that school districts like Freehold Borough have seen significant student population increases without corresponding dollars and schools like University Heights Charter School in Newark have had to cut back on needed mental health services and arts programming because they lack funding.  And these schools are not alone.

The biggest losers in all of these debates are our students.  The answer isn’t to vilify charter schools that are working for families.  We cannot allow one sector’s expansion or success to be viewed as a threat to everyone else.

Equitable funding for all of our public school children is the goal.  Pitting students and families against one another is not only ineffective, but also gets us further away from the ultimate reason we’re all at the table: educating and supporting our students so that they can reach their full potential.

Public school leaders, education experts and policymakers in New Jersey must work together to identify an adequate funding source so that all of our schools have the resources they need to succeed.  That is the most productive path forward.


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