New Jersey Democratic legislators released their budget today, with little change in public school funding from the budget proposed by Governor Chris Christie in February.
The legislators’ budget adopts Governor Christie’s proposal for a seventh straight year of either cuts or flat school funding under New Jersey’s landmark weighted student formula – the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) – adopted in 2008. The only relief over this seven-year span was $500 million of Governor Christie’s $1.1 billion SFRA funding cut restored to urban districts in 2011 under NJ Supreme Court order.
New Jersey lawmakers have now accumulated a $6 billion shortfall in what the SFRA formula calculates is adequate to provide the teachers, support staff and essential resources for all students to meet the State’s Common Core and other academic standards, including students at-risk due to poverty, language barriers and disabilities.
In their budget, the legislators embraced Governor Christie’s proposal for flat funding, with no increase to maintain current staff and programs in the face of rising fixed costs and enrollment growth. This budget leaves districts without any of the $1 billion increase they should have received had the SFRA been properly funded in 2015-16.
The bottom line from this budget is another round of painful cuts to essential programs, staff and services for many underfunded districts across the state. In recent weeks, ELC has profiled the educational harm to students in the Lindenwold, Egg Harbor Township and Elizabeth public schools from successive years of SFRA formula underfunding.
While offering no funding relief for district schools, the legislators also adopted Governor Christie’s proposal to strip $37.5 million from district budgets and give extra funding to NJ charter schools. According to an analysis by the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services, eight districts, including Paterson, Irvington, Trenton, Jersey City and Plainfield, must transfer from $500,000 to $2.3 million in extra funds to charter schools. Newark stands out as charters in the city will reap a $24.5 million windfall, a major reason why the district is facing a massive $50 million budget deficit. By giving Newark charters extra funding, the State-operated district must make even deeper cuts to teachers, courses, support staff and remedial programs for students in the district’s public schools.
The only bright spot is the legislator’s decision to remove Governor Christie’s proposal for $2 million in private and religious school vouchers from the State Budget. Vouchers have not been authorized by lawmakers, and this action puts an end to another attempt by Governor Christie to bypass the legislative process by including vouchers in the budget. This action also means New Jersey remains a state where public dollars are not used to subsidize unaccountable private schools.
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