In Gov. Phil Murphy‘s new state budget plan, state aid to schools in New Jersey would be cut. However, a deal the Democratic governor just made with Democratic lawmakers could mean that schools would be hit less than expected next school year.
The new bill would lessen the cuts by giving $102.7 million in one-time supplemental aid to restore two-thirds of the money that was going to be cut from these districts’ budgets because of the way the state pays for schools.
This would affect more than 150 districts in New Jersey where direct aid is set to go down under Murphy’s plan for the fiscal year that starts in July.
State Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, who is a main sponsor, said that this bill (S3727) could stop layoffs and cuts to programmes in eligible districts in the fall.
Gopal told NJ Advance Media, “The jobs of hundreds of thousands of teachers are at risk.” “These districts have higher costs for things like inflation, mental health care, and technology. Right now, the state has more money than it needs. These districts need our help.”
The plan is moving quickly through the state legislature, which is controlled by Democrats. On Monday, the bill will be up for a vote in the state Senate Budget Committee. Then, it’s likely that the full Senate and state Assembly will pass it in the next few weeks, making it possible for Murphy to sign it into law.
MORE: This year’s 10 biggest winners and losers in New Jersey’s school aid funding
In a statement released late Friday, Murphy said that his administration “remains committed to giving New Jersey students a world-class education.” This is why each year’s budget continues to give historic amounts of money to our schools.
“As we work to make sure every student gets the high-quality education they deserve, this extra money will help districts adjust to changes in aid under our state’s school funding formula,” said the governor.
The record $53.1 billion state budget plan that Governor Murphy unveiled last month includes an all-time high of $10.75 billion in direct state formula aid to K-12 schools. This is an increase of $832 million in direct support. There is also $1.1 billion in aid for programmes before kindergarten, which is $110 million more than last year.
But according to the state’s school funding formula, 407 districts would get more money while 157 districts would get less. Thirteen would not get any more or less money.
Murphy’s budget plan also includes a $10 billion surplus to help protect the state from a possible economic recession.
Gopal said that he and other lawmakers talked with Murphy’s office all week and came to a deal Thursday night to reduce the cuts to schools.
Under the plan, districts that are going to get less money from the state would be able to ask for extra money equal to 66% of the difference between what they got in the old state budget and what they are going to get in the new one.
Officials say that this means that these districts will only get one-third of the cuts they were supposed to get next school year. They would have to ask the commissioner of the state Department of Education for the extra money. It would only be true for the next fiscal year.
The state’s Property Tax Relief Fund would give the money. Murphy has said that giving more money to schools makes it less likely that local governments will have to raise property taxes.
Gopal pointed out that under the original plan, a school district near him, Freehold Regional, would have had only a few weeks to figure out how to cut $5 million.
The lawmaker said, “That’s not fair at all.”
This is happening in a big election year for the legislature. In November, all 120 seats in the Legislature will be up for election. Democrats want to stay in charge, while Republicans want to win at least one house for the first time in 20 years.
Gopal, state Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex), and Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D-Middlesex) are all running for re-election in districts that are close.
Zwicker said that these cuts would have been terrible for our schools.
Freiman said that the last thing families need to worry about after the coronavirus pandemic is teachers being fired or services being cut.
In the past few weeks, Republicans have criticised Murphy for cutting aid and have called for more changes to the way the state pays for schools.
Senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho, R-Sussex, said Friday that GOP lawmakers “continue to believe that there is no reason for the Murphy administration to cut funding to any school district” with the proposed surplus.
“We support the proposed partial restoration of funding, but we are still worried that it will only solve the problem for one year,” Oroho said. “If we don’t change the way schools get money for good, the money that was temporarily restored will be taken away again next year, and state aid will be cut even more.”
State school aid is given out based on a set of formulas that are meant to fill the gap between how much money a district can bring in and how much it needs to give a good education. When figuring out how much help a district needs, things like property tax income, the number of students enrolled, and the number of students from low-income families or who are learning English are taken into account.
Even though the current funding formula was made in 2008, a rule that said no district could lose money stayed in place until 2017. The governor’s office has said that the 2008 formula is on track to be fully paid for by 2025.
In the coming months, Murphy and the other lawmakers will work on a final state budget, which must be in place by July 1.
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