School aid not enough

School aid not enough

Gov. McGreevey’s announcement last week that school districts would receive a 3 percent increase in state aid this year certainly came as a surprise to many local school officials.

It’s better news than they’ve received in years, as they have become used to the aid remaining flat.

But the 3 percent increase McGreevey has promised school districts is still quite small in light of the fact that state aid has been stable in each of the four previous years, while costs and taxes have gone up considerably.

The standard annual cost of living increase equals 3 percent. With four years of flat state funding, school districts are at least 12 percent behind in aid.

School officials in local districts would agree that although this year’s increase was unanticipated, there should have been state aid increases over the past four years.

In addition, McGreevey’s decision to hold back one of the 20 state aid payments to all school districts last year took more money away from education. The 20th state aid payment lost during 2002-03 was counted as the first payment for the 2003-04 school year. That payment amounted to 5 percent of the state aid paid to districts.

In reality, school districts suffered a 5 percent decrease in state aid last year.

At the time, McGreevey said the payment would be returned to the districts when the economy turned around. What happened to that payment?

So, school districts have had to suffer through flat aid increases, and even one decrease, totaling a loss of about 17 percent in state aid.

And it’s local taxpayers who have to make up for the state’s underfunding of education.

Members of the East Brunswick Board of Education — which has passed sharp school tax increases in recent years due to the state aid problem — were pleased to learn last week of the increase, but their enthusiasm was somewhat dulled by the tough budget decisions that have been made and that they continue to face.

School districts and taxpayers have been so deprived of state aid in the past four years that they are grateful to get any crumb of funding the state offers. It doesn’t matter that the state has shortchanged funding to school districts, because the burden of making up for the lack of state aid always falls unjustly on taxpayers.

McGreevey’s 3 percent in-crease is unrealistic and an insult to taxpayers.