Gov. Phil Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney have some significant differences, on issues including the millionaires tax, public workers’ benefits and the Schools Development Authority. But they met Monday to tout an area of common ground: expanding preschool.

Murphy toured a pre-K program at Oakview Elementary School in Sweeney’s hometown of West Deptford. That district received $1.2 million in preschool funding this year from the state and would get $1.8 million in the coming year under Murphy’s budget plan.

“This is an area of this year‘s budget where I know the Senate president and I are in lockstep,” Murphy said.

“This will separate New Jersey from other states,” Sweeney said. “The investment in our children at the earliest ages makes all the difference in the world.”

Sixty-four districts got preschool expansion grants for the 2018-19 school year. The proposed budget includes $25 million to include additional schools next year, as part of $68 million in increased spending on preschool, bringing the total to $806 million.

Currently, 180 school districts get state aid for preschool. Most of that is given to the 31 mostly poor, urban districts formerly known as Abbott districts. Around 335 other districts that serve elementary-school students don’t currently get preschool aid.

“We don’t want to pit communities against each other,” Sweeney said. “We want to be able to decide where we want to live understanding that quality pre-K exists in every community throughout the state.”

“Our hope is over a period of years that they’re not having to choose between West Deptford and some other community but that this will be all over the state and New Jersey will be the pre-K state,” Murphy said.

Murphy said the National Forum on Early Childhood Policy and Programs estimates every dollar spent on preschool can yield $9 in higher tax revenues and less government spending later.

“You don’t need to be a financial wizard to know that’s a great return on investment,” Murphy said.

Sweeney said spending on preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds is worth it because researchers have learned that 85 percent of brain development happens between birth and age 5.

“And the goal is let’s get this fully funded throughout the state, and then let’s start lowering the age. Because the sooner we get these young people, the better we’re going to make them and we’re going to make New Jersey a standout state,” he said.

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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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