TRENTON, N.J. – Republican Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday proposed redistributing billions of dollars in educational aid from the poorest districts to hundreds of other schools, calling the current funding formula “immoral” and a factor in the state’s highest-in-the nation property taxes.
Christie, a high-profile adviser to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, focused on a classic New Jersey boogeyman— high property taxes, which the nonpartisan Tax Foundation rates as the country’s highest — and a long-simmering frustration that the state’s school funding unfairly helps some residents while burdening others, with little to show for it.
Christie wants to scrap a state formula that goes back to a 1985 state Supreme Court ruling requiring that 31 mostly urban, poorer school districts get a “thorough and efficient” education because, he says, results show the plan isn’t working.
The proposal drew opposition from Democrats and praise from Republicans.
New Jersey distributes about $9.1 billion to schools, which get much of their funding from property taxes. More than $5 billion goes to the poorer school districts, with about $4 billion going to 546 remaining districts, according to Christie.
Under his plan, each district would get $6,599 of state aid per student. That’s a change from the current formula that applies to pupils in cities like Asbury Park, Camden, Newark and Trenton, where per-pupil funding is nearly $21,000.
“That is an unacceptable, immoral waste of the hard-earned money of the people of New Jersey,” Christie said during remarks at Hillsborough High School, one of the schools that would benefit under his proposal.
The proposal could run into a brick wall, though, in the Democrat-led Legislature. Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto called the idea “unconstitutional” and “harmful,” while Democratic Assembly budget chairman Gary Schaer called the idea “radical.”
“We’re not just creating winners here. There are significant losers,” Schaer said. “To suggest every child is the same is just not the case. To suggest every community is the same is just not the case.”
Republicans rushed to applaud Christie’s proposal.
“Nothing is more fair than treating students equally no matter where they live,” said Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick.
But it’s not that black-and-white, says the group that brought the case before New Jersey courts that resulted in the current funding formula. The plan is contrary to the Legislature’s wishes and unconstitutional, Education Law Center executive director David Sciarra said.
Christie’s concentration on school funding and property taxes comes as polls show record-low approval ratings in New Jersey and as Trump, who named Christie to lead his White House transition team, endures a rough patch, including the firing of his campaign manager and a low monthly fundraising report.
Christie did not take questions Tuesday.
His proposal comes as the fiscal year near a close and his proposed roughly $35 billion 2017 budget still pending. Lawmakers are also hashing out a plan to fund road and bridge work, which is paid for through a fund that runs out of borrowing authority on July 1.
It’s also Christie’s final year and a half as governor.
“I have 18 months left in office, and I will not permit these fundamental truths to not be spoken and acted upon,” Christie said.