Life after Hoboken: Suburban Education
I recently had a playdate with a longtime friend who moved from Hoboken to Maplewood, NJ. We use this time to catch up and update each other on the activities of our similar-aged children.
Education is inevitably a part of our discussions, and we discovered a common trend; confusing state policies that seem to address education on a macro rather than micro level. I discussed the recent Hoboken charter school debate and my concerns about property taxes.
Maplewood does not have any charter schools; my friend moved there because four years ago it was designated a blue-ribbon district. However, since her move essentially all the state funding has been removed from Maplewood and reallocated to Newark. Program cuts and increased class size resulted in loss of the blue-ribbon designation; the latest cut involves replacing a Spanish teacher with Rosetta Stone software. Local citizens are outraged, resulting in a highly contentious Board of Education election.
My friend purchased her suburban home, willingly paying $17,000 in annual property taxes, on the assumption that the excellent schools would remain at their high caliber. I purchased my urban home, paying $12,000 property taxes, on the assumption that we could place our children in the decent but not spectacular public schools if my husband lost his job. I paid $9,000 last year in private school tuition for my two children; that amount combined with local property taxes essentially equaled my friend’s property tax bill.
Right now, the state of New Jersey is 100% responsible for charter school approval. With the state budget bleeding red, logic from the state level would seem to dictate approval of more charter schools since students are funded almost entirely by local municipalities, unlike public school students. The three existing Hoboken charter schools have 10% special needs/low-income students versus 70% at traditional public schools; if additional charter schools are approved then will the public school percentage go even higher?* And would I want to place my children in a tiny public school system that lacks programs like art, music, language and afterschool activities? And would I be willing to pay $17,000 per year in property taxes if my children do not attend a charter school?
The one common trend in both the urban and suburban education situations? There needs to be more local oversight in education funding. There needs to be a balance between the best interests of the state versus the interests of the local municipalities. Recent legislation called for local voter approval of charter schools; that seems like a step in the right direction.
* I have been talking to experts about financial ramifications of new charter schools for Hoboken homeowners. The numbers are unclear because of the changing student population. Hoboken charter schools receive approximately 90% of the annual traditional public school per-student funding. There are additional funds provided to special needs and low-income (a.k.a. high risk) students. If a new charter school removes students who do not receive additional funding then the public school per-student cost goes up as the proportion skews toward special needs/high risk students, which in turn increases the funding received by all Hoboken charter schools. Last year, the Hoboken charter schools received an unexpected 15% increase in funding for this reason.