- Associated Press - Saturday, May 27, 2017

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - All the candidates running to replace New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie agree that addressing the state’s high property taxes is a priority, although any fixes will be closely linked to K-12 education in the state.

Republican candidates in the race have gone after each other over their plans for addressing property taxes, while the Democrats are in agreement that the formula that’s supposed to be used to fund schools should be followed.

Christie, a Republican, has not fully funded schools according to the formula and has pushed to change it.

The primary is June 6. The general election is Nov. 7.

Christie is term-limited.

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THE ISSUE

Decisions made by the governor about education affect not only kids in the classroom, but also the real estate taxes that their parents pay.

New Jersey’s property taxes are the highest in the nation and one of the key drivers of that is spending on schools. That has led to a 2 percent cap on property tax increases, but also to debate over whether the state’s school funding formula needs to be overhauled.

Christie has been lobbying for an overhaul of the funding formula that would send money to districts per-pupil equally and eliminate the Supreme Court-mandated funding plan that the two-term governor has ignored. That has met stiff resistance among Democratic lawmakers and education advocates. Lawmakers are debating their own changes.

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CANDIDATE PROMISES AND PLANS

On the Democratic side, all four of the leading candidates have pledged to fully fund the school aid formula. They have also all called for ending the requirement that the Common Core-aligned PARCC test be used as a graduation requirement.

Democrat Phil Murphy, the former Goldman Sachs executive and Obama administration ambassador to Germany, and state Assemblyman John Wisniewski have both called for eliminating the test completely. Murphy was endorsed by the state’s largest teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association.

Murphy, Democrat Jim Johnson, a former Clinton administration official, and Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski have also called for universal pre-kindergarten a part of their platform. Democratic State Sen. Ray Lesniak says that he would prioritize establishing programs for prenatal to 3-year-olds in low-income districts and that universal pre-K would come after that.

GOP Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno has called for capping property taxes at 5 percent of income, which she describes as a first step that would provide immediate relief to tax-burned residents. Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli calls Guadagno’s so-called “circuit-breaker” plan “disingenuous” and said that it ignores the mandated funding formula.

Guadagno says that she wants to reform the “antiquated” school funding formula, while also increasing aid for special education while also auditing all of the state’s school districts.

Ciattarelli wants to reform the school funding formula by redirecting what he describes as “excess aid” sent to districts like Jersey City.

Both Republican front-runners want to redirect pre-K money so that it is available for students based on income levels.

Asked her position on PARCC, Guadagno said that her administration would examine the state’s testing requirements and “eliminate unnecessary testing.”

Ciattarelli said that “we may be at a point where the flawed roll-out and complete loss of faith and confidence in PARCC by all stakeholders points toward its replacement and a different approach.”

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WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Julia Sass Rubin, a professor at Rutgers’ Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, agrees that the main issue facing K-12 education in the state for the next governor is money. She said that Democrats’ pledge to fully fund the formula is “a lot easier to say than do.”

She said that Christie has failed to follow the formula while in office and has kept funding flat around the state, meaning that districts that have grown are still getting the same that they got seven years ago.

“The biggest issue the next governor is going to be face is where to get the money to provide the funding that the schools need,” she said. “There are some incredibly hurting districts.”


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