Two key legislative committees voted Monday to boost extraordinary special education funding by $50 million next year, with up to $20 million in emergency relief set aside for districts facing state aid reductions.

Another $48 million would be added for grants to help foster shared services and school consolidation, and $4 million would be added for school choice aid, according to a legislative score sheet that compares the new budget plan with the governor’s budget proposed in March.

The Legislature’s version of the budget would spend $38.7 billion, including $14.3 billion, on education. Of the $14.3 billion, close to $8.7 billion would be allocated for direct aid to school districts, an increase of 2.8% increase from last year

The proposal does not change school districts’ direct state aid figures that were originally announced in March, with the exception of Lakewood, which lost most of the special aid it was scheduled to get under the governor’s original budget.

“The NJSBA has consistently advocated for increased aid for extraordinary special education costs and is pleased that the Legislature added $50 million for that purpose,” said NJSBA Executive Director Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod. “We also testified regarding the need for an increase in emergency relief aid.”

Throughout the budget process, the NJSBA has advocated that state aid be calculated based on the most recent available student population statistics without using predetermined growth limits. The Association is encouraged that the Legislature’s budget proposal will continue the trajectory of full funding of the chronically underfunded districts.

The main difference between the Legislature’s version and the governor’s original budget proposal is in how funds are raised. The Legislature declined to include the millionaire’s tax favored by the governor, opting instead for a tax increase on health insurance companies.

In a statement, Gov. Phil Murphy said the Legislature’s version of the budget “falls short on the principle of tax fairness.”

The new appropriations bill is moving quickly. The Senate and Assembly budget committees approved the Legislature’s new version of the budget on June 17. The full Legislature is scheduled to vote on the proposal on June 20.

If the budget passes both houses of the Legislature, it will be sent to the governor. He can sign it, veto it, reduce legislative line items or delete budget language additions. He cannot add new line items, budget language or insert new revenue. The budget would need to be approved before July 1 to avert disruption of state government services.

The legislative proposal’s $50 million increase in extraordinary special education funding would bring the aid category to $250 million for fiscal year 2020. The increase, which would benefit a large number of school districts, makes progress toward full state funding of extraordinary special costs, a proposal in the Legislature’s “Path to Progress” report. In recent years, districts have needed well over $300 million to meet their extraordinary special education expenses. The NJSBA encourages the state to continue working toward fully funding extraordinary special education costs..

Up to $20 million in emergency relief would be made available to districts facing state aid reductions if the new proposal is signed into law. Such relief would be awarded at the discretion of the education commissioner on a case-by-case basis.

The Association will continue to monitor the state budget situation as it evolves provide additional details to members as they become available.

 

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