Eastside calls for Cherry Hill Public Schools to receive fair funding
May 14, 2018
Across Cherry Hill, passionate students and parents fill hallways, social media groups and Board of Education meetings to air their grievances about the district’s 19 schools. It is no secret that class sizes are too large, grounds are not secure and the dingy buildings pose health and safety hazards.
Eastside believes that although these advocates are well-intentioned, many have failed to address the larger issue at hand: due to the underfunding this district has experienced for the past decade, it simply does not have the money to execute most proposed reforms. Therefore, Eastside asserts that the equitable reallocation of New Jersey public education funds is essential to leveling the playing field for students across the state and facilitating the renovations and revampment that the Cherry Hill Public School District desperately needs.
Fair funding is a right guaranteed to all New Jersey citizens. Article VIII, Section IV, paragraph 2 of the state constitution states that the income from the public education fund “shall be annually appropriated to the support of free public schools, and for the equal benefit of all the people of the State.” But as it stands, Cherry Hill students lack technology that neighboring districts have and see loose electrical wires dangling atop their heads, while their Washington Township and Voorhees friends have state-of-the-art security systems and personal iPads. Neighboring districts Lenape and Eastern receive 136% and 117%, respectively, of their apportioned aid, while Cherry Hill, which is comparable in median income, receives only 46%. Thus, it is safe to say that the Department of Education has not, in fact, funded schools to the equal benefit of everyone in the state.
Dedicated faculty, supportive families and fundraiser proceeds from the PTA and other groups have allowed Cherry Hill schools to remain academically challenging and enriching despite a lack of resources, but Eastside fears that the effects of underfunding will only worsen as time goes on. Without the money to do electrical, piping and concrete work, the already tired school infrastructures will continue to deteriorate. Without the addition of new staff members and the advancement of academic programs, Cherry Hill students may be left behind as other schools move to one-to-one technology initiatives and modernized curriculums.
At East alone, Eastside sees areas in critical need of improvement; it believes that the school’s security system should be augmented with cameras providing live feeds to police and vestibules that verify visitors before allowing them into the building, and that the Guidance Department must be expanded to provide students with more individual assistance. But none of these changes are possible in a district that only receives 14 million out of an allotted 29 million dollars each year, less than half of its fair share in funds.
The consequences of inequitable funding extend beyond the schools. Each and every Cherry Hill taxpayer is not only being shortchanged for the money he or she sends to Trenton, but he or she is also forced to make up the difference by paying higher local property taxes. Throughout it all, tax-burdened families have never received a straightforward answer to the question of why their schools are so grossly underfunded while neighboring districts receive millions in surplus aid; even Superintendent Dr. Joseph Meloche, who regularly meets with officials, has yet to hear a justification from the Department of Education.
Eastside believes that this taxation without explanation, much less representation, is illogical and unjust to the residents of the township.
Horace Mann, the namesake of one of this district’s schools, called education a “great equalizer” amongst men, but the current state of New Jersey’s public education funding has created rifts between students instead. Eastside encourages the Cherry Hill community to rally behind this issue just as ardently and as forcefully as it has done for all of the problem’s byproducts. The appeals of district officials are not nearly as effective as those of constituents, whose advocacy has begun to gain traction—administrators credit the additional one million dollars the district received from the state last July to the tireless efforts of people working with, and communicating to, elected representatives from the state.
Now, the momentum they created must be sustained. Eastside urges its readership to write letters or make phone calls to Assemblyman Louis Greenwald and Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (856-435-1247) and State Senator James Beach (856-429-1572) using call scripts and resources from the Fair Funding for Cherry Hill Schools website (fairfunding.wixsite.com/fairfundingchps).
Residents must demand accountability from their representatives and an equitable return for their tax dollar. Parents must insist on safe classrooms to learn in and updated textbooks to learn from. Students, whose voices are the most important of all, must share their experiences and call for change. And together, this township must fight to grant its 11,000 diverse, inquisitive, creative children the fair funding they deserve.