All $2.9 billion in bond financing for school construction projects approved by the New Jersey Legislature in 2008 is now spent or committed, and lawmakers must promptly approve a new round of funding for urgently needed projects across the state.
Education Law Center Executive Director David Sciarra issued the call to action to replenish funds for school construction in testimony to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Public Schools on May 8.
The school construction program, which provides significant support to rebuild and upgrade New Jersey’s aging facilities infrastructure, was launched in 2002 to comply with rulings in the landmark Abbott v. Burke case ordering the state to fully finance needed improvements to dilapidated, overcrowded and unsafe school buildings in the state’s 31 urban districts, called “SDA districts.”
In establishing the Abbott school construction program, the Legislature included grants for projects in non-SDA districts – called “regular operating districts” (ROD) – and county vocational schools. The program is administered jointly by the NJ Department of Education (DOE), which reviews district-wide plans and project proposals, and the Schools Development Authority (SDA). The SDA issues bonds and finances projects and is also responsible for facilities construction in the SDA districts.
ELC’s testimony highlighted the following:
The SDA has $1.7 billion in outstanding bond financing available for SDA districts, but virtually all of the funding is allocated to current projects in the pipeline to be completed over the next few years.
In a review of the SDA districts’ most recent long range facilities plans, the DOE identified the need for 381 major school construction projects – including renovations of 200 existing schools and construction of 102 new schools.
The SDA has extremely limited funds remaining for emergent repairs and capital maintenance projects in the SDA districts.
The funding for regular operating district grants and county vocational school facilities has been completely exhausted.
ELC urged lawmakers to immediately direct the DOE and the SDA, in consultation with the SDA districts, to develop a new statewide capital plan of needed projects to guide lawmakers in determining how much new bond financing should be authorized. ELC also recommended that the grant program priorities for regular operating districts be revised to include facilities projects designed to allow for the extension of kindergarten to a full-day program and for expanded preschool programs.
“It’s time for legislators to get to work to plan and finance the next round of needed school facilities projects across the state,” said David Sciarra. “It’s also crucial to plan for and finance the needs of all three district types – SDA and regular operating districts and county vocational schools – in the same comprehensive approach taken in 2008, and not in a piecemeal manner.”
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