FINAL NJ BUDGET: CHARTER AND PRIVATE SCHOOLS GET MORE, NO INCREASE FOR DISTRICT SCHOOLS
July 6, 2015
Governor Chris Christie has signed the New Jersey State Budget, which includes education funding for fiscal year 2016. The final education budget differs little from the Governor's initial proposal to the Legislature in February. The Governor, however, vetoed the majority of the targeted, "off formula" education funding added to his proposed budget by the Legislature.
Preschool-12th grade public school children will see no increase as the final budget enacts Governor Christie's proposal for a seventh straight year of reduced or flat funding under the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), the state's weighted student formula. There are some minor exceptions that direct small allocations of additional funds to certain schools and students.
With the ink now dry on the budget, the clear winners are New Jersey's charter schools, especially those in Newark, and, to a lesser degree, private schools.
For the seventh year in a row, the losers are the over one million students attending district schools.
District Schools: There is no increase for school district budgets under the SFRA formula. Funding is essentially the same as last year. In 2010, Governor Christie's cut $1.1 billion cut in school aid, followed by what is now six consecutive years of flat funding along with a host of new, unfunded mandates such as PARCC testing and teacher evaluations. This combination of reduced school aid, new costly mandates, and inflation and rising fixed costs, mean districts are continuing cuts to teachers, courses, programs and services. The cuts are acute in high poverty districts and districts experiencing enrollment growth.
The Governor vetoed several "off formula" funding allocations included in the Legislature's budget, including a $1 million "Achievement Gap Reduction" competitive grant program, $19 million to prevent massive cuts in the State-operated Paterson school district, and $543,000 in debt service relief for the struggling Egg Harbor Township district. The Governor also vetoed the Legislature's attempt to add an $879 million contribution to address the huge shortfall in the teachers' pension fund.
The Governor maintained the $2 million added by the Legislature for competitive grants to support particular education initiatives, including PARCC implementation; $435,000 to waive Advanced Placement exam fees for needy students; and $3 million to support county vocational schools.
Charter Schools: Charter schools are the big winners with the enactment of Governor Christie's proposal to transfer an extra $37.5 million to charter schools from district budgets. The big winners among the charters are those in Newark, especially the national KIPP and Uncommon charter chains, which will grab an extra $25 million from the State-operated Newark district budget. The $25 million extra for KIPP, Uncommon and other Newark charters is a major reason why neighborhood public schools are facing a $50 million budget gap and significant cuts in teachers, programs and services, further eroding educational opportunities for students in district-run schools.
Private and Religious Schools: The Governor maintained a new allocation of $5.75 millionto pay for security in private and religious schools. It is unclear which schools will receive this funding and how the State will hold the schools accountable for how these funds are spent.
The one bright spot is the Legislature's removal of Governor Christie's $2 million for private and religious school vouchers. This action maintains New Jersey's leadership as a state that does not allow public funding to be used to directly support private and religious education.
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