Legislature appropriates additional funds for schools
Gov. Christie vetoes most of the increase, tries to keep the rest out of classrooms
New Jersey’s budget for the coming year has been finalized, and it includes additional aid to school districts. Beyond the $250 million that Gov. Christie proposed in his budget address and $446.9 million in court-ordered aid to Abbott districts, Democrats included more than $500 million in additional aid for non-Abbott districts in their budget. Gov. Christie vetoed most of that amount, but left in $150 million for those districts.
The $150 million that survived his veto is intended to begin restoring the deep cuts made last year, including restoring programs and rehiring staff. However, the Christie administration is trying to undermine the intent of that aid by instructing districts to use it for property tax relief rather than for the benefit of students.
In a memo to superintendents, Acting Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf wrote, “The additional State aid included in this year’s budget provides your district with a unique opportunity to reduce property tax burdens by lowering your local property tax levies for this fiscal year or the next. Using this aid to lower taxes is an important step towards new and effective management of our schools that focuses on improved student achievement, rather than increased spending. I urge you to join our reform initiative by applying these newly-allocated funds to alleviate your district’s taxes this fiscal year.”
Educators are dismayed that the Christie administration is attempting to prevent districts from using the new aid to restore programs and positions that were cut last year or earlier. However, a guidance document from the Department of Education shows that districts do have the right to submit revised budgets in order to use the funds to benefit students, by rehiring laid-off staff, reinstituting academic and extracurricular programs and removing student activity fees.
Local leaders should contact their districts to find out how the additional funds are going to be used, and to urge that they be used to restore programs and staff cut in recent years. It is important that superintendents and business administrators understand that they have the ability to use the additional school funding to benefit students.