On behalf of NJEA’s 200,000 members, thank you for reading our testimony about the Fiscal Year 2021 budget. From our perspective, there are many good things in this budget, including revenue raisers to ensure that the state can meet its obligations. We support the governor’s proposed millionaires tax, which will not only increase revenue, but will also help reduce income inequality in our state. In addition to the other revenue raisers that restore fairness, we support the permanent 2.5% surcharge on corporations that earn over $1 million. With the proposed 5% surcharge on qualified business income, these taxes could raise $1 billion in FY 22, the first full fiscal year. The surcharges replace federal taxes that were changed, so they would not be a burden on taxpayers.
This budget supports K-12 public education. It includes a $4.9 billion pension payment that continues the state’s path toward fully funding the pension, helping to ensure the solvency of our members’ retirement income. And while money is tight during this pandemic, NJEA appreciates that the governor did not make any cuts to school funding and allocated $100 million in federal Coronavirus Relief Funds to help meet health and safety standards, as well as additional funding for programs to support lead remediation, STEM, teacher diversity, and expanded pre-k.
Although the pool of funding for K-12 was not cut, flat funding is a cut for some districts due to the school aid adjustments as a result of S-2. While districts knew these cuts were coming, the added financial pressure of the costs of PPE and additional supplies needed during the pandemic to ensure the health and safety of students, staff, and ultimately the public, are leaving districts with budget shortfalls. Many school districts, with buildings already in need of repair, cannot meet safety standards dictated by the pandemic. Additional funding for these districts would help them ensure student and staff safety, and maintain their instructional programs.
Budget shortfalls are a serious problem for New Jersey’s community colleges. Between de-appropriations in the spring, reduced enrollment, and reduced funding in the “fifth quarter,” our community colleges have seen a 31% decline in their aid. As community colleges are forced to raise tuition and fees, the extra costs due to lack of funding will fall upon their students who are often the most disadvantaged. We urge the legislature to restore the $25 million in operating aid that was cut from their budget.
This budget also cuts the Office of School Linked Services, including the School Based Youth Services Program, and is moving the funding to an out-of-school program instead. The School Based Youth Services Program covers approximately 30,000 students. While this is only a fraction of New Jersey’s students, the program provides mental health services to students in school who, without this program, will probably not get the mental health services they need. Mental health services are often limited and difficult to come by. In these times, when students are experiencing a new level of stress, mental health services should not be cut at all, especially when offered within the school environment where these students spend much of their day. We urge the legislature to find additional funds for mental health services in schools beyond this program, and to ensure that students get the support they need.
This budget comes at a very difficult time for the state. We thank the administration for making public education students and staff a priority in this budget, through the commitment of continuing existing programs, the pension payment, a commitment to school funding, and extra funds to respond to the pandemic. We look forward to working with the legislature to ensure that those very priorities remain in this budget.