Thank you very much.
Thank you all for being here.
I want to acknowledge the officials who are here today.
Appreciate Senator Kean and Assemblyman Bramnick for being here, Assemblyman Ciatarelli, mayor Calaguire, mayor Levine, thank you all for being here.
I appreciate it very, very much.
We have two separate but completely intertwined crises in New Jersey that must be dealt with.
They must be dealt with honestly and directly, and we cannot wait any longer to do it, property taxes and the failure of urban education.
Both of these crises are hurting all New Jerseyans, those affected both directly and indirectly.
Property taxes in New Jersey are the highest in America and the majority of those taxes are for local school taxes.
Urban education, despite 30 years of Supreme Court required intervention by the state, is still failing students and their parents at an alarming rate.
The theory from the Supreme Court was that money alone would solve the problem.
They were wrong, very wrong, and the results prove it.
They have not solved our failures in urban education and in the process have led New Jersey to be amongst the highest-taxed states in America.
They have required the Legislature and governors to craft ridiculous school funding formulas that cheat thousands, in fact tens of thousands of families out of funding and thousands more from a valuable education.
Those days must end.
It is time to change the failed school funding formulas and replace them with one that will force the end of these two crises, the property tax scandal and the disgrace of failed urban education.
New Jersey spends the 3rd most in the nation per pupil on K-12 education.
For the upcoming fiscal year we propose spending $13.3 billion on aid to K-12 education, so let’s start off first.
How do we spend it?
How do you spend just at the state level $13.3 billion?
$9.1 billion immediately goes back to the school districts according to the school funding formula in direct aid.
3.25 billion of school aid is to pay for the pensions and the health benefits for current and retired teachers.
936 million goes to pay debt on school construction, mostly in urban districts in building those new schools.
$13.3 billion—and that does not count the money paid in local property taxes towards our K-to-12 schools, so let’s break it down even further.
Who gets the 9.1 billion?
Well that begins to tell the story. By order of the Supreme Court, and coerced acquiescence of the elected branches of government, this coming year 5.1 billion of the 9.1 billion goes to just 31 urban or so-called SDA districts.
5.1 billion of 9.1 billion goes to 31 districts.
The remaining 4 billion goes to the remaining 546 districts, so 5.1 billion to 31 districts; 4 billion to 546 districts.
58% of the aid from state taxpayers goes to 5% of the school districts, while 42% of the aid goes to the remaining 95% of school districts.
This is absurd.
It’s not working, and it hasn’t worked for 30 years.
Over the last 30 years—I want you to understand the scope of what we’re talking about.
New Jersey taxpayers have sent $97 billion to the 31 SDA districts.
The other 546 districts in the state have received collectively $9 billion less over the last 30 years, $97 billion divided among only 31 SDA districts while the families in 546 other districts have had to divide $9 billion less collectively.
The inequity is appalling and has only gotten worse as the years passed.
In 1990 23% of the children in New Jersey were in SDA districts, and at that time 26 years ago they got 41% of the state aid.
In the 26 years since the percentage of students in SDA districts has not moved a lick.
It’s still 23%, but now they get 59% of the state aid.
Has that enormous differential in state aid brought greater achievement in the 31 districts?
Tragically so for the families in those districts and for the taxpayers all across New Jersey who have been footing the bill for the last 30 years.
Let’s just take a sample of graduation rates.
Now the statewide graduation rate is 90%.
How have we done in the 31 districts where we’ve invested $97 billion over the last 30 years?
Asbury Park—66% graduation rate.
Camden—63% graduation rate.
New Brunswick—68% graduation rate.
Newark—69% graduation rate.
Trenton—68% graduation rate.
27 of the 31 SDA districts are below the state graduation rate average, 27 of the 31, despite the exorbitant spending by state taxpayers over the last 30 years.
Spending does not equal achievement—never has and it never will.
There are exceptions and those should be noted right here. In Harrison, in Long Branch, in Millville, and in Pemberton they have exceeded the statewide graduation rate and they should be commended for it.
In Union City they have seen extraordinary growth under very trying circumstances and the leadership in those districts, all five of them, deserve great credit, but despite nearly $100 billion, nearly a hundred billion, to those 31 districts in the last 30 years from taxpayers all over New Jersey, failure is still the rule, not the exception, and by the way, that 66, 63, 68, 69, the overwhelming majority of those who graduate, if they go to a county college or four-year institution need remedial classes to get themselves to the level of being able to do college work.
In Essex County College, that was 95% of the students who come from SDA districts needed remedial training in Essex County College to get to the county college level, so even the idea of the graduation rate is an illusion in and of itself.
It’s an unacceptable, and it’s an immoral waste of the hard-earned money of the people of New Jersey.
Worse than the wasted money is the lives that were not given the chance to reach their full potential.
We accept that subpar performance and we pay a fortune for it.
Don’t let anyone tell you that failure is inevitable for children in those 31 districts or that money is the answer.
Let’s take some examples.
The Academy Charter School in Asbury Park has an 89% graduation rate with children from Asbury Park.
The traditional high school? A 66% graduation rate.
Academy spends $17,000 per pupil in Asbury Park.
The traditional high school spend $33,000 per pupil for that rate.
The LEAP Academy Charter School has a 98% graduation rate in Camden, while the graduation rate in the district is 63%.
LEAP spends $16,000 per pupil while the Camden school district spends $25,000 per pupil, 16,000 to 25,000; 98% graduation rate to 63% graduation rate.
In Newark, the North Star Academy Charter High School has an 87% graduation rate compared to the citywide rate of 69%.
North Star spends $13,000 per pupil.
The city of Newark spends over $22,000 per pupil.
13,000 to 22,000; 87% to 69%.
Over and over again we see the same issue: money spent without results for the families we are meant to serve.
It is a false claim and always has been.
It’s failing families and their children.
It’s bankrupting our state.
It’s driving families from their homes and from New Jersey.
The failure of the educational system in those 31 districts is the first tragedy.
The second tragedy is this system has caused us to have the highest property taxes in the nation.
New Jerseyans regularly say that the issue that is their number one concern are property taxes, the highest in the nation and a burden on families in every corner of New Jersey.
What drives these taxes?
OK, more numbers, but you need to hear them
52% of property taxes statewide are spent on school taxes, so when you look at your property tax bill, 52 % of that bill average across the state goes to school taxes and it’s as high as two-thirds in some districts in the state, but here is the unintended consequence of the unfair school funding formula: in those 31 SDA districts, they spend a fraction of their property taxes on schools as compared to the rest of the state.
That’s right—the statewide average percentage of property taxes spent on schools is 52%.
In the 31 SDA districts it’s half that.
They spend 26% of their property tax dollars on their schools.
Are they taxing less?
Oh no, they are just growing the size of their municipal government.
The statewide average percentage spent on your municipal government is 30%, but what about in the SDA districts?
It’s nearly double.
A whopping 54% of the property tax dollars they collect go to their municipal government.
When you look at some of the individual districts, it is appalling.
Asbury Park spends 60% less of their property tax dollars on schools than the state average while their city spends 64% more than the state average on their municipal government.
Let’s take Trenton.
They spend 18% less than the state average on their schools but they spend an enormous 387% more than the state average on their municipal government.
In Paterson they spend 49% less on their schools but 251% more on their city government.
How about East Orange?
39% less on schools; 379% more on city government.
It’s unacceptable, but it is perfectly predictable.
If you require the state to pay the overwhelming percentage of the school costs in those 31 districts, they are left with a choice: do we tax less or just spend more on the growth of our municipal government?
The answer is resounding in most of the 31 SDA districts.
The people of the rest of the state pay over 80% of the cost of their schools and we will spend our money to build oversized municipal governments, with no relief for local or state taxpayers.
The abuses abound.
Let’s just take one.
Let’s take Trenton for an example.
The presidents of both the PBA and AFSCME receive full municipal pay to work only for the unions, not a minute of time working for the people; fulltime taxpayer funded employees to work for the unions.
No wonder it costs 387% more to run municipal government than the state average.
How do we fix these problems?
First, we must fix the tax problem because that is the one that affects each and every New Jerseyan and threatens the future of the affordability of our state.
I propose we do this by changing the school funding formula.
I propose the Fairness Formula: equal funding for every child in New Jersey.
Now if we were to take the amount of aid we send directly to the school districts today, as we mentioned earlier if you’re keeping up with the numbers, $9.1 billion proposed in this budget, and send it equally to every K-to-12 student in New Jersey, each student would receive $6,599 from the state of New Jersey and its taxpayers, so let’s start off here first, because this will get mischaracterized in a bunch of ways I can guarantee you.
We are not talking about cutting aid a dollar.
We are not talking about reducing aid that we send to K-to-12 education a dollar anywhere in the state.
This is not a budget cutting proposal.
This is a budget reallocation proposal based upon fairness to children and the families of the state.
Every child has potential.
Every child has goals.
No child’s dreams are less worthy than any other child’s.
No child deserves less funding from the state’s taxpayers.
That goal must be reached, especially after watching the last 30 years of failed governmental engineering which has failed families in the 31 SDA districts and taxpayers all across the state of New Jersey.
What would the effect of this change be for school aid in New Jersey?
75% of all New Jersey districts would get more state aid than they do today under the Fairness Formula, 75%.
That is how fundamentally unfair the current formula is to students and to taxpayers, and it is unfair in every part of this state, so let’s take a little tour.
We’ll start in Margate, one of my favorite towns.
They’re getting dunes.
They would receive 428% more in aid, 428% more in aid.
Let’s go to Fair Lawn in Bergen County.
815% more in aid.
In that town, when combined with our 2% property tax cap, this new aid would result in an average reduction in their school property tax of over $2,200 per household, average in Fair Lawn.
Let’s go to Teaneck, again in Bergen County.
389% more in aid and an average drop in property taxes of nearly $1,600 per household.
How about Wood-Ridge in Bergen County?
An 801% increase in aid and a drop in property taxes of over $1,800.
Let’s not let South Jersey feel left behind.
Let’s go to Cherry Hill.
An increase in aid in Cherry Hill of 411% and a drop in property taxes of over $1700.
In Haddonfield, a district with a 99% graduation rate, they would see an increase in aid of 1,705% and a drop in the property taxes for the people in Haddonfield of nearly $3,600 on the average homeowner in Haddonfield.
The pattern is repeated everywhere.
South Orange aid up 912%, taxes down over $3700 per average household.
In Readington Township, aid up 410%, taxes down nearly $2,000 per household.
In Robbinsville, aid up 666%, taxes down over $2,600 per household.
In Freehold Township, aid up 153%, taxes down over $1,500 per household.
In Chatham Township, aid up 1,271%, taxes down over $3,800 per household.
Wayne, New Jersey aid up 1,181%, taxes down over $2,100.
All over the state we slay the dragon of property taxes by implementing the Fairness Formula.
For the first time in anyone’s memory property taxes would be plummeting, not rising, and all through valuing each child and their hopes and dreams and potential the same.
Of course, we will make sure that we have the aid for special needs students so that they may reach their full potential too.
They are the exception though.
The overwhelming majority of students deserve the Fairness Formula and we intend to pursue it for them.
We want to see major changes to the failed model of education in so many of these 31 SDA districts.
We now see definitively that money has not made the difference over these 30 years but reforms have made the difference, and we’re going to continue to advocate for those reforms and we will insist that this new funding formula reward our successful charter schools with funding that comports with their success.
Let us begin to reward success in our urban districts rather than continuing to feed failure, which is what we’re doing and have been doing for the last 30 years.
It is fundamentally wrong that students in the SDA districts receive 5 times more in state aid than students in non-SDA districts.
Think about that.
The average aid to an SDA student is five times the amount of the non-SDA students.
Think about it.
The underpinnings of the Abbott decision Supreme Court was that there was a fundamental inequity in the funding.
They’re right, except it’s in the wrong direction now.
They have well overcorrected the problem while refusing, both in the courts and in our political institutions, to deal with the underlying problem in our failing school districts, which is we’re not teaching children the way they need to be taught and we’re putting the comfort of adults ahead of the potential of children.
It’s unfair to those students who are getting five times less and it’s unfair to the residents of those towns who have been forced for more than three decades to foot the cost of that failure and unfairness in their state income taxes.
A funding formula that puts a higher value on one child over another is morally wrong and it has been economically destructive.
We cannot let it continue, so I will travel across the state this summer to talk about this plan to, for the first time in my lifetime, lower property taxes for the people of New Jersey and bring fairness to the funding of our schools.
We can do better and we must in educating all of our children and in bringing fairness to our taxpayers.
No one, no one should be denied an education because of where they call home, and no one should have to sell their home because they can no longer afford the property taxes caused by a perverse school funding formula that devalues their children in the eyes of the state budget.
After all, it is their tax dollars that in part fund that aid itself.
I have 18 months left in office and I will not permit these fundamental truths to not be spoken and acted upon.
I will demand that the Legislature try to defend the indefensible: that one child is worth more than another in the eyes of the state depending upon their zip code, or they can come along with me to fix this issue and put an end to the misery of our property taxpayers and make history in New Jersey.
See, the Legislature seems more than ready to amend the constitution at a whim for things that will matter little to anyone but certain narrow special interests in our state.
8.9 million citizens, an overwhelming majority of them, pay property taxes.
800,000 of our citizens get taxpayer funded pensions.
The Legislature seems poised to amend the constitution to take care of the 800,000 but not a move to try to help the 8.9 million.
If they want to amend the constitution they can do so, and I encourage them to consider it.
See, I’m ready for the fight and I know the taxpayers of New Jersey are looking for us to finally solve this problem.
It is unacceptable to me that we fail to say this out loud.
We think somehow because the seven lawyers in robes decided 30 years ago that there was a funding inequity and they had a plan, it may have been well-intentioned and let’s assume for the sake of argument that it was, not just social engineering but well-intentioned jurisprudence.
They were wrong, and not only were they wrong about the results they were providing for the students they were trying to effect, but they have now so overcorrected the problem that the inequity lies on the side of taxpayers in 546 districts across the state that can no longer afford their homes because of school taxes, and ironically in those 31 districts they get no tax relief of any real measure because their elected officials want to hire their uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces to grow municipal government larger and larger and larger and spend significantly over the statewide average in property taxes on their municipal government.
If you leave this to them they have one answer and one answer only: tax more, spend more, trust us with your money.
I have now been in state government for nearly seven years.
I have some advice: don’t, don’t, don’t.
Don’t let common sense be taken away from your ability to make these decisions.
No child in this state is worth more state aid than another.
No family in this state should have to disproportionally pay.
You got a bigger house? You got to pay more in property taxes.
You got more land? You’re going to pay more in property taxes.
That’s not what I’m talking about.
We’re talking about 52% of your property taxes going to schools in 546 districts and 26% of your property taxes going to schools in 31 districts.
We’re talking about 546 districts having to divide $88 billion over the last 30 years and 31 districts dividing $97 billion.
Where did the money go, and what did you get in return for it?
But an even more important question than what did you get in return for it, what did those children and their families get in return for it?
Underachieving schools that do not prepare them for the jobs of the future or the careers and college life of the future.
We’re paying a king’s ransom in those 546 districts, but in most of them we’re preparing our students for the future.
We now should share with each other the money that our state taxes.
It can be fixed.
We don’t have to rely upon the courts to do it.
I’m not one who’s favored amending the constitution, but I am obviously out of step with the rest of the Legislature, at least on the Democratic side, who believes that whenever they can’t get something past my veto it gives them license to amend the constitution.
Almost nowhere else in the nation do you have a minimum wage in the constitution.
Do you have the allocation of open space dollars in the constitution?
That’s not only non-democratic, because what they want to do is go around the person, the only person in that town who’s been elected by all of the people in the state, but they don’t want to even address the really important issue, the issue that in every poll that you see for my lifetime has been named by the people of New Jersey as the most important issue, reducing property taxes.
The 2% cap has restrained property taxes, and if pass this school funding formula you will see why the 2% cap is so important, because if you give them all this money believe me they’re going to want to spend it.
With the 2% cap they’ll only be able to spend 2% of the new money that they get, and 98% has to go back to you, where it came from in the first place, and I suspect when we stop encouraging the idea that money equals achievement, when we start supporting the methods put in place by these charter schools in urban areas that are showing such extraordinary achievement at a fraction of the cost, that we can fix the urban education problem at the same time.
Necessity is the mother of invention everybody.
If we give Asbury Park $33,000 a year to graduate 66% of their students we shouldn’t keep doing it.
If we tell them that the charter school down the street graduates 89% of their students with half the money maybe they might want to wander down the street and see how they’re doing it.
Maybe we can break the special interests of the state out of the old orthodoxy.
It’s up to us.
I’m going to be the voice for this, and I welcome as many people to this cause as are willing to join it.
75% of the districts in the state do better.
It’s time for your voices to be heard
It’s been 30 years of a failed social experiment by a group of lawyers in black robes.
It’s time for the people to take back control of this issue and apply common sense to it.
Every child in this state deserves to be treated equally and every child in this state deserves an education that prepares them for the job or the education that they want to pursue.
We’re failing on both fronts, and it’s an unacceptable failure because we see the solution in front of us and we just choose not to do it because we don’t have the will.
I have the will, and I think you do too, so let’s get to work together.
Let’s take on this fight, and I will be coming to a theater near you this summer, to be guaranteed to be able to make this sale to the people of New Jersey and maybe their elected officials might even listen
Thank you all very much.