School funding proposal punishes kids for his political failures

On June 14, news emerged of a “deal” on school funding that merges the best of Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto’s plan — $100 million in additional aid, plus $25 million for preschool expansion – with the worst of Senate President Steve Sweeney’s plan – snatching $46 million from students in some districts to make up for his years of failure to fund other districts as required by law.

NJEA has lobbied hard for the additional funding proposed by Prieto as a first step toward getting the state back to full funding of the SFRA formula. At the same time, NJEA has adamantly opposed Sweeney’s funding shell game that takes needed funds from students in 126 districts across the state for redistribution to other districts in need. It’s a callous failure of leadership that allows the state to pick children’s pockets instead of live up to its own responsibilities.

Districts across the state that are desperately underfunded need additional resources immediately. It is unconscionable that Steve Sweeney has used their crisis, which he helped create, as a pretext to raid funds from other districts, which will face staffing cuts, program cuts and tax increases as those districts scramble to make up the difference.

NJEA remains committed to fighting for more funding for students in those districts without snatching it away from other students.

NJEA’s officers spoke out yesterday on Sweeney’s proposed money grab.

“Today’s proposed new school funding plan helps many students in New Jersey, but it does so at the expense of other New Jersey students, which makes the cost too high” said NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer. “From the beginning we have pushed for a solution that helps the students who need it most, while protecting all students from paying the price for eight long years of failed leadership on this issue by Steven Sweeney and Chris Christie. This proposal does not do that. We remain firmly opposed to any school funding changes that take money away from any of New Jersey’s public school students. They were not the ones who created our school funding problem, and we will not stop fighting to protect every student, in every district, from Steve Sweeney’s sick scheme.”

“Sweeney’s vindictive insistence on making children pay for his failures is the lowest form of political gamesmanship,” said NJEA Vice President Marie Blistan. “It’s not about the dollars involved. He made that clear when he negotiated the amount lower. It’s about protecting his own pride and salvaging a sliver of a political victory, no matter the cost to children. He proved that he was willing to hold needed funding for other districts hostage until he extracted his pound of flesh.”

“In March, the state told districts how much they would receive next year, and districts have already built and approved budgets based on those figures,” noted NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Sean M. Spiller. “In many cases, that state aid was too low, and we’ve advocated for increases for those districts. Helping underfunded districts at this point in the budget process by increasing their funding makes sense. Taking funding away from other districts, including some whose budgets remain below the state’s own definition of adequate, is both senseless and cruel. The Legislature should absolutely provide the additional funding outlined in today’s agreement, because it is desperately needed, but every lawmaker should consider whether he or she really believes that any child in New Jersey should pay for any portion of that deal, because that’s wrong.”

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