School districts decry cuts in state aid in proposed NJ budget
TRENTON – Despite $578 million more going into the school funding formula, aid to K-12 districts has been a frequent focus of early legislative budget hearings because one-third of school systems will be getting less funding.
The biggest drop is in Jersey City, down $71 million, or 22%. Toms River Regional would be reduced by $8.1 million, or 14%, and it has had one of the most frequent voices heard at the first round of budget hearings.
“Our school district lost $5 million last year and a projected $8 million this year,” said Melissa Morrison, a Beachwood resident and teacher in Lincroft. “In reality, that’s a loss of 100 public school teachers throughout our 18 schools.”
AJ Trump, a parent of three from Pine Beach, said the phased-in return to the school funding formula required under bill S-2 is causing “irreparable damage” to Toms River, which spends $38 million less than adequacy and growing, despite raising property taxes the maximum 2% a year that’s allowed.
“I unequivocally believe is raising up underserved communities, providing opportunity for a better life,” Trump said. “But not by tearing other communities down and not on the backs of struggling, fiscally responsible suburban districts who have many children and families that are facing the exact same struggles.”
One-third of districts lose a combined $192.5 million in funds. But even some that are gaining funds want the formula changed, such as Monroe Township in Middlesex County, which unlike its neighbors receives no stabilization aid, the single largest category of school funding.
“Our district is at a crossroads, and if nothing changes we will have to start cutting programs to provide for trailers and facility needs as well as health and safety requirements, all while we continue to receive more and more students each week,” said Superintendent of Schools Dori Alvich.
Julie Borst, executive director of Save Our Schools New Jersey, said the school funding formula should be reviewed, as it was adopted 13 years ago, before current standards and test rules were in place.
“We urge you and the governor to consider to make no cuts to S-2 districts this year and to extend their timeline for the drawdown so the impact to students is softened,” Borst said.
“In FY22, every single district in the state is facing health and safety concerns in their buildings,” said Sharon Krengel, policy and outreach coordinator for the Education Law Center. “They need to remediate learning delays and provide compensatory special education and a host of other things that are resource-heavy. So, we think that there’s really no justification for district cuts under S-2.”
Andrea Katz, of the Fair Funding Action Committee, applauded the effort to return to the funding formula. She said that even though the deficit under the School Funding Reform Act is the lowest since it was implemented in 2008, 380 districts are still under-aided – three more than in 2017.
Katz said the COVID-19 challenge has illustrated the difference in the resources available to keep students safe, such as hand-held thermometers in some districts versus full-body scanners in other places.
“Many over-aided districts are in this position due to enrollment declines,” Katz said. “During COVID, this means that their classrooms have space to accommodate social distancing and thus more in-person instruction, while some under-aided and overcrowded districts are forced to do so without social distancing measures.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that students in under-aided schools are potentially less safe than their over-aided counterparts,” she said.
Christopher Jones, a legislative advocate for the New Jersey School Boards Association, said it’s important for the Legislature to include the $50 million proposed in Gov. Phil Murphy’s budget plan for stabilization aid, available to districts that are losing funds.
“Last year, we applauded the creation of stabilization aid to help these districts and were disappointed when ultimately that did not make the final cut,” Jones said. “Stabilization aid has returned in this proposal, and we hope it is here to stay.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.