ELC: A Good Start But Much More Needed to Educate All Students in Safe, Modern Facilities
On Monday evening, in legislation introduced along with the FY23 Appropriations Bill, the New Jersey Legislature put forward a $1.5 billion appropriation from the “Debt Defeasance and Prevention Fund” for the New Jersey Schools Development Authority (SDA) to resume construction of numerous school facilities projects stalled for the last seven years after the SDA ran out of funding.
The new funding was proposed by lawmakers as Governor Phil Murphy faces a deadline of July 20 for a Special Master, Judge Thomas Miller, to report to the New Jersey Supreme Court on the Administration’s progress in complying with a 1998 court order in the landmark Abbott v. Burke case. That order mandates full state funding of the construction needed to upgrade and replace obsolete school buildings in urban districts. Education Law Center, as counsel for the students in those districts, filed an enforcement motion with the Court when the Governor and lawmakers repeatedly failed to allocate new funding for the stalled projects.
“We’re glad lawmakers have finally responded to address the unsafe and inadequate conditions which children must endure every school day,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director and chief counsel. “But while a good start, these funds fall far short of what is needed for the over 300 urban school projects approved by the Department of Education in the districts’ long-range facilities plans. For example, only one Newark school project will be funded even though the district has eight on a priority ‘build list’ approved recently by the Department.”
The Legislature’s action to approve new funding is also the result of sustained advocacy by ELC’s many partners, including the Healthy Schools Now Coalition, to ensure funding for the program. Several key legislators championed the cause of school construction, especially Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz and Senate Education Committee Chair Vin Gopal.
“While we commend the Legislature for taking this action, this funding is nowhere near sufficient to finish the job,” said Sharon Krengel, ELC Policy and Outreach Director. “In testimony before the Assembly Budget Committee in April, SDA CEO Emanual DaSilva admitted that it would take at least $5 billion to address a majority of the aging infrastructure in the SDA districts, so we still have a long way to go.”
Policy and Outreach Director
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Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications