TRENTON -- Opponents of Gov. Chris Christie's plan to dramatically overhaul New Jersey school aid long considered it "dead on arrival" when it was first introduced last year.
On Tuesday, the controversial proposal, known as the "Fairness Formula," appeared to be officially buried.
In his latest and final state budget address, the governor abandoned his pitch to slash funding to urban districts and give tax relief to wealthy suburbs and instead put forth a budget on school funding that effectively maintains the status quo.
Though Christie also promised to act on his own if the Legislature doesn't agree to a new school funding formula with 100 days, Democrats who control the state Legislature questioned what leverage Christie holds.
"I don't know what he can have at his disposal," state Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) said after Christie's speech. "I think he saw that if you actually did his Fairness Formula, it wouldn't have worked, and it wouldn't have been constitutional."
N.J. districts that rely most on state aid
Christie didn't say why he declined to pursue the plan to give every district a flat rate of $6,599 per student, though he did note the attorney general's office has warned that the Supreme Court would "smack" him if he altered school funding.
The governor did achieve his goal of sparking a conversation about school funding in Trenton, he said. Christie considers the state's school aid unfair because 31 districts are guaranteed high funding under a state Supreme Court ruling and receive more than half of all state aid for schools.
"I proposed the fairness formula because I believe in it," Christie said. "I proposed it because I wanted to shine a light on the failure of the current formula. I proposed it to shove the other two branches into a real conversation to fix this problem."
For now, the state will send school districts notice of their proposed state aid under Christie's budget, which provides a record $13.8 billion in school funding. Every district is slated to get at least the same amount of state aid as this school year, Treasurer Floyd Scutter said, but the budget contains no increase in formula aid, the primary source of state money schools can spend inside the classroom.Christie on new school funding formula: 100 days. No "stupid" task forces.
Meanwhile, the clock begins ticking on Christie's 100-day challenge for lawmakers to come up with a new way to fund public schools. The governor called the existing formula, which expects wealthier districts to pay for a greater share of the school costs, a disaster and mocked it as "more confusing than the formula for old Coke."
Christie wants to get in a room with state lawmakers and iron out a plan with no delay, no task forces and no "stupid blue ribbon commissions," he said. He advised lawmakers to take action now before they come up for re-election in 2017.
"Everything is on the table. No idea out of bounds for discussion," Christie said. "I am willing to work with you to solve this problem without any pre-conditions on the ideas brought to the table."
Prieto and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said they were pleased that Christie didn't include his Fairness Formula in the budget. They have their own concerns about school funding and are willing to work with Christie but want to use the structure of the existing funding with a few possible tweaks, they said.
"The school funding formula is not a disaster," Sweeney said. "We're not doing a new formula."
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