For the fourth year in a row, Governor Christie’s proposed budget for public education seriously shortchanges New Jersey’s 1.3 million public school students. In fact, a staggering 467 school districts, out of a total of 580, will not see their state aid in 2013-14 return to 2009-10 levels.
If the Governor’s proposals stand, many districts promised a slight aid increase over last year will have those increases withheld under a special tax to be assessed by the State Treasurer to cover a portion of the interest and principal payments on State school construction bonds.
And it gets worse for our students. The Governor wants to unilaterally alter the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) – the State funding formula – to reduce education spending for needy schoolchildren. He is attempting to divert $2 million in public funds to vouchers for religious and private schools, and to allocate $5 million for undefined “competitive grants” at a time when districts are reeling from the impact of three years of State aid cuts.
Finally, the Governor is offering no new funding to follow through on the Legislature’s commitment in the SFRA to expand NJ’s acclaimed Abbott preschool program to other high need communities and poor youngsters across the state.
So once again it is up to our legislators to reject the Governor’s proposals and revise the FY14 State Budget to address pressing student and school needs.
Below are six ways the Legislature can make the FY14 education budget fair for students:
- Remove all illegal, so-called “modifications” to the SFRA formula, especially the reductions in spending for at-risk and bilingual students, and direct the Commissioner of Education to issue revised State aid notices to districts using the proper SFRA formula parameters.
- Increase State aid to help students in moderate- and middle-income communities, whose districts are spending below the level determined to be educationally necessary or “adequate” under the SFRA formula.
- Eliminate the Governor’s proposed $2 million appropriation for religious and private school vouchers.
- Eliminate the special tax on prior years’ school construction grants so affected districts will not have their aid increases withheld by the State Treasurer.
- Redirect the $5 million for competitive grants to fund the expansion of high quality preschool to poor children outside the former Abbott districts.
- Direct the NJ Schools Development Authority (SDA) to prepare a detailed schedule for constructing and completing pending school construction projects in SDA districts during 2013-14, as a condition of the appropriation of State funds to pay principal and interest on previously issued State school construction bonds.
“It’s crystal clear that the Governor has no interest in investing in the future of our public school students,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “In fact, the Governor’s budget proposal is a blueprint for depriving children of the educational opportunities they need to ensure their productive employment and engaged civic participation in the decades ahead.”
“Once again our children are counting on the Legislature to stand up for them by enacting a budget that rejects the Governor’s disinvestment in public education and, instead, continues New Jersey’s longstanding commitment to their future,” Mr. Sciarra added.
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