Governor Chris Christie again sent a clear signal to NJ lawmakers that he would veto any increase in school aid added to his proposed FY17 State Budget. The Governor proposed a seventh straight year of ignoring the funding formula, starting with a massive $1.1 billion aid cut in 2010, his first year in office.
Unfortunately, the Legislature backed down in the face of the Governor’s veto threat. The budget approved by lawmakers and signed by the Governor contains no meaningful increase in K-12 aid to make up the nearly $1 billion owed to NJ school districts in FY17 under the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), the state’s weighted student formula.
With this budget, Chris Christie has secured his legacy as the most anti-public education Governor in modern New Jersey history.
The Legislature did increase preschool education aid in the budget by $25 million to begin the long overdue phase-in of high quality preschool to high need communities across the state, as required by law. The Governor used his veto pen to strike this increase, depriving thousands of at-risk three- and four-year-old children of a research-proven program crucial to school success. The Governor also cut a $3 million increase to boost “breakfast after the bell” participation, a program to ensure students are not too hungry to learn.
But the Governor, with the Legislature’s approval, did find more money for charter schools. The budget yet again changes the way these schools are funded to hold them harmless from aid cuts, providing a total of $57 million in extra funding beyond what is required by the charter school law.
The Legislature also found an extra $2.1 million for busing thousands of private school students in Lakewood, funding intended to continue sex-segregated “courtesy” busing for children living within walking distance of their schools. This special Lakewood legislation may also drain another $2 million or more from the budget of the fiscally distressed Lakewood public schools, which serve mostly Black and Latino – and low-income – students.
The winners in the FY17 education budget are charter schools and the Lakewood private schools. The losers for seven years in a row are New Jersey’s 1.3 million public school students.
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