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Cerf's Visit to Education Committee Raises Question About Budget Balance of Power

Committee member: why wrangle over state school aid if lawmakers can't affect final numbers?

The Christie administration and Senate Democrats continued their tug of war over the details of state aid to schools Monday. But it took a Republican to raise an important question as to how much say the Legislature will have in the distribution of the final amount for next year.

State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf testified for the first time yesterday before the Senate Education Committee, with much of his visit taken up defending the administration’s latest proposal in his Education Adequacy Report for adjusting some weights in the state’s school-funding formula.

In more than two hours of testimony, Cerf said that the state remained among the most generous in funding for public education, and his changes would only make what he called “exceedingly modest” reductions in the extra amounts that districts with high poverty would receive for their students.

“The notion that we are doing this on the cheap for at-risk kids, I find that extremely hard to take,” Cerf said.

Cerf brought up a familiar argument concerning Camden schools, a district that he said spends over $22,000 per student while seeing 23 of its 26 schools in the bottom 5 percent in terms of student performance.

“Is there anyone who really believes if we gave Camden more money, it would change the education outcomes?” he asked.

But all minds were on Gov. Chris Christie’s budget for fiscal 2014 -- still a month away -- and the breakdown of state aid for each district.

And while Democrats picked at Cerf’s testimony -- and a formal resolution rejecting the report remains pending in the Senate -- it was one of the Legislature’s most conservative members who complained that it didn’t matter much given that the administration’s aid assignments typically stand no matter what the Legislature says, good or bad.

“It should be the Legislature driving the train here, and we have let our authority be taken away from us,” said state Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Warren).

Continue reading on NJSpotlight.com.

NJ Spotlight is an issue-driven news website that provides critical insight to New Jersey’s communities and businesses. It is non-partisan, independent, policy-centered and community-minded.

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