On March 17, Gov. Phil Murphy announced a bill in partnership with the Legislature to offer more than $102 million in additional funding to school districts that would see a reduction in school aid under the governor’s proposed fiscal year 2024 budget as a result of S-2.
The bill, S-3732, appears to be on the fast track to final passage, as it was posted for consideration by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Monday morning and approved by the full Senate later in the afternoon. The legislation now heads to the General Assembly where its lower house counterpart, A-5328, will be heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on March 23. Expectations are that it will clear the Legislature when the Assembly holds a voting session March 30.
According to a news release from the governor’s office, the bill allows school districts that would see a reduction in school aid to request an additional amount of aid equal to 66% of the difference between the amount they received in the 2022-2023 school year and the amount of aid currently proposed for the 2023-2024 school year. The bill provides that, to receive the supplemental aid, the district would be required to submit to the New Jersey Department of Education “a written plan explaining how the district will allocate these funds and how the district will fund operations in future school years in which the district does not receive” the supplemental aid. The news release also states that “[a]ll eligible districts that submit a request to the commissioner of education will receive this additional funding” with submission of that written plan.
The bill notes that the supplementary aid is an “additional one-time only amount.” As per the bill, $102,784,455 from the Property Tax Relief Fund will go to the Department of Education to effectuate the provisions of the bill. A total of 161 districts are eligible to receive a share of the additional aid.
Jonathan Pushman, director of governmental relations at the New Jersey School Boards Association, expressed the Association’s support for the legislation, which was introduced by Senate Education Chair Vin Gopal, Sen. Andrew Zwicker, and Assemblyman Roy Freiman, when he testified on the bill in committee on March 20. He urged swift approval of the bill to mitigate any adverse impact the aid reductions would have on students and to ensure districts are able to incorporate their revised aid figures into the budgets currently under development.
Pushman noted that school districts face significant inflationary pressures and skyrocketing costs on transportation, special education and health insurance. He added that districts are still striving to support mental health initiatives and learning recovery efforts in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. “These cuts would have been very painful and quite frankly impossible to absorb,” he said.
He also highlighted that the challenges posed by these cuts are often exacerbated by a hard 2% property tax levy cap, impeding some districts’ abilities to raise the local fair share envisioned by the School Funding Reform Act. NJSBA has long advocated for relief from the cap to allow districts, particularly those experiencing aid reductions, to help them maintain critical staff, programs and services.
The bill was approved with unanimous, bipartisan support in committee and when voted upon by the full Senate.
Dr. Timothy Purnell, executive director and CEO of the NJSBA, said the Association appreciates the hard work of the Legislature and the governor in providing additional aid to districts. “However, we hope this is the beginning of a larger conversation about how we can better support these school districts,” he said. “When such cuts are combined with the 2% property tax levy cap, districts facing funding reductions and tight budget development timelines often face considerable difficulty transitioning to new aid amounts in a way that ensures continuity of high-quality education programs for all students. This legislation is a great first step, but more needs to be done to provide school districts the tools and resources they need to advance the achievement of all students.”
The governor said his administration remains committed to providing New Jersey students with a world-class education. “As we work towards ensuring equitable access to the high-quality education every student deserves, this supplemental funding will support districts in adjusting to changes in aid under our state’s school funding formula,” he said. “I thank our legislative partners for their collaboration in reaching this agreement on behalf of educators, students, and their communities in the upcoming school year.”
Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, acting commissioner of education, thanked the governor for being consistently responsive to situations of each New Jersey local educational agency. “As we continue to navigate the impact of our school funding structure, and in light of unique circumstances, the over $100 million in supplemental funding will provide an additional layer of stability this year and continues to demonstrate the administration’s responsiveness to every New Jersey student,” she said.
Read the full news release for more details.