Lawmaker says state aid promised to some schools will be reduced
For a budget that increases spending by $1.5 billion to $2.7 billion, depending on how you do the counting, Gov. Phil Murphy’s $37.4 billion spending plan has managed to nevertheless find robust groups of detractors.
The loudest are advocates for underfunded school districts, who say the distribution of nearly $284 million in additional school aid actually worsens inequities between districts, rather than fix them.
At the Legislature’s fourth and final public hearing on the state budget proposal Monday, those advocates turned to children to help make their closing argument.
Third-grader Charlie Katz told the Assembly Budget Committee she’s worried some teachers will have to leave Chesterfield Elementary School because it doesn’t have enough money.
“To help I am going to have a lemonade stand with all my friends and donate the money to our school so we can have enough money to pay our teachers,” Katz said.
Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, said lawmakers were disappointed with how Murphy divvied up aid for the 2018-19 school year and that adjustments will be made, as they were a year ago in then-Gov. Chris Christie’s final budget.
“It’s going to be expensive to get it fixed because now districts that think they’re getting money, they’re not going to get as much money as they think,” Burzichelli said. “And districts that aren’t getting what they need are going to get closer to what they need, in some form.”
Elisabeth Ginsburg, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, said that if school aid is reallocated the 2 percent cap on property tax levy increases should be waived in cities and towns that are raising less than what the state considers their ‘fair share’ for schools.
“This allows those districts to compensate for removal of their adjustment aid, some or all of their adjustment aid, while achieving fair funding for them, as well,” Ginsburg said.
School funding isn’t the only area of consternation.
Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club said that for all Murphy’s rhetoric about prioritizing the environment, the spending plan is “a retread of last year’s budget and the budgets before.” There were many calls for higher Medicaid spending for addiction and other services.
The one, besides school funding, that lawmakers gave extra time and sympathy Monday was a prisoner re-entry program run by former Gov. Jim McGreevey that’s slated to lose its $4 million in funding.
McGreevey said the program is “the firewall between prison and the community” and saves money in the long run by making it less likely a released prisoner commits another crime.
“I don’t fully understand what happened, but I’m hopeful with the support of the speaker and the Senate president and the governor that we can get back on sound footing,” McGreevey said.
The $4 million for the New Jersey Reentry Corporation in the current state budget helped the program expand beyond Hudson, Essex, Passaic and Ocean counties into Bergen, Union, Middlesex and Monmouth, McGreevey said.
The program had requested $5 million in the upcoming budget, but Murphy’s blueprint provides it no funding.
Burzichelli said he was taken aback by its exclusion. Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, D-Essex, the Assembly Budget Committee chairwoman, questioned the reason for the proposed cut.
“We all understand here, and I think bipartisan, the incredible work that is being done and how important it is to have those services when you first come out and how helpless you are,” PIntor Marin said.
Lawmakers have 12 weeks to adopt a spending plan before the new fiscal year begins on July 1.