Parents, board members, superintendents and local officials gathered at the State House on March 8 to launch a statewide campaign to oppose Governor Christie’s proposed budget, which would, for the third year, reduce funding for public education. Fifteen school districts from across the state were represented at the press conference, and participants made it clear that their communities have had enough of budget cuts.
The event was sponsored by Save Our Schools NJ, a rapidly growing organization of public school parents from every corner of the state. Save Our Schools now has over 6,500 members.
Speakers at the press conference emphasized that NJ has a fair school funding formula designed to provide sufficient funding for all children, with extra funds for disadvantaged students and students with disabilities. But because the formula hasn’t been funded in the last three State budgets, school districts have been forced to cut teachers and other staff, programs, and services, undermining the quality of education for NJ’s 1.3 million public school children.
The 15 districts represented at the press conference ran the gamut from small to large and from suburban to urban: Basking Ridge, Bayonne, Bloomfield, Camden, Cherry Hill, East Brunswick, East Windsor, Newark, North Brunswick, Piscataway, Princeton, Robbinsville, South Brunswick, Teaneck and Trenton.
Participants brought data showing the millions in state aid cuts to their districts since 2010. An analysis prepared by Education Law Center shows that, if Governor Christie’s proposed cut for 2012-13 is adopted, districts across the state will have lost a total of $3.6 billion in state aid since the 2009-10 school year.
The Rev. Toby Sanders, President of the Trenton Board of Education, called the FY13 budget “a joke, a bridge breaker, a resource stealer.” He said the presence of the 15 districts was a rebuttal to the notion “that we’re a divided New Jersey,” and added, “I’m emboldened if we can stand together.”
Superintendent Patricia McGeehan from Bayonne spoke about the growing student need in her district, and Bayonne’s dubious distinction as the most underfunded district in the state. She described the “Bayonne Kids Count, Too” campaign and the over 9000 letters that have been sent to State Legislators asking them to provide the district with the aid they’re entitled to according to the formula.
Lisa Winter, a parent from Basking Ridge, called herself a “huge fan of the funding formula.”
“We’re an under-adequacy district. We got an increase in state aid [for 2012-13] for the first time in 10 years, but with the cuts we haven’t even recovered to where we were 10 years ago,” Winter said, lamenting the loss of middle school extracurricular activities and class size increases in Basking Ridge schools.
“We lost $700,000 in surplus in 2010 that was earmarked for property tax relief,” said Robert Copeland, Superintendent of the Piscataway district in Middlesex County. “All told we’ve lost about $6 million and only have $3 million returned. But with full aid we could reduce taxes on our homeowners by about $1000.”
Press conference participants were joined by several legislators, who expressed their support for their local educators and parents, as well as for the State funding formula. Legislators included Assemblywomen Mila Jasey, Cleopatra Tucker, Shavonda Sumter and Grace Spencer, and Assemblymen Jason O’Donnell, Charles Mainor, Benjie Wimberly and Gilbert Wilson. The legislators posed for a photo with school representatives.
Assemblywoman Jasey praised participants for spreading the word about the harmful impact of school aid cuts and urged them to keep working together.
Save Our Schools NJ plans to keep the pressure on legislators to reject Governor Christie’s proposed funding cuts, and to use the formula to provide more funding to districts across the state.
Policy and Outreach Coordinator
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications