In virtual testimony this month before state Senate and Assembly budget committees, the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) said it appreciated the addition of $578 million in education formula aid, which will benefit the majority of the state’s school districts.
If approved by the Legislature, the governor’s proposed new $44.8 billion state budget would also include the following allocations supported by the NJSBA:
- An expansion of state investment in pre-K education by $50 million, including $26 million for new programs.
- An increase of Extraordinary Special Education Aid by $25 million, and
- $50 million in Stabilization Aid.
“We strongly support and appreciate the increase in education formula aid,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA’s executive director. “The new investment in Extraordinary Special Education Aid would provide relief for more than 500 school districts. And the proposed Stabilization Aid will help districts meet the challenges of the pandemic while they are adjusting to new funding levels required by the state’s funding formula.”
In its testimony, the NJSBA noted that about two-thirds of the districts throughout New Jersey have been chronically underfunded since the state funding formula’s inception. In recent years, the state has made great strides toward getting these districts to full funding under the formula. However, last year these districts saw their increases retracted by the state, due to the pandemic, and they ultimately received flat funding.
Budget Proposal Demonstrates Commitment to Education The NJSBA told the budget committees that it is pleased that the governor’s proposed budget “not only restores those cuts but adds significantly to that amount. This increased funding demonstrates the state’s commitment to the importance of investing in our students and providing districts with the resources they need.”
At the same time, approximately one-third of the state’s school districts continue to experience state aid reductions. These reductions are compounded by restraints on the ability to replace these funds due to the 2% property tax cap and, more recently, unforeseen costs associated with COVID.
NJSBA applauded the creation of Stabilization Aid last year to help these districts, and the Association was disappointed when this aid ultimately did not make it in to the final budget agreement. Stabilization Aid has returned in this budget proposal. In its testimony, the NJSBA emphasized how critical this aid could be in helping districts adjust to new state funding levels.
Extraordinary Special Education Costs Rose $52 Million In its virtual testimony before the state Senate and Assembly budget committees, the NJSBA was also appreciative of the proposal to increase Extraordinary Special Education funding by $25 million. If adopted, this would represent a 55% increase in funding in four years. The state has been making a concerted effort to get this line item to full funding, and the NJSBA supports that. However, it should also be noted these costs continue to rise as well. From fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2021, Extraordinary Special Education Aid was increased in the budget by $80 million. Over the same time span, the costs incurred by districts for these expenses increased by a little over $52 million. In its testimony, the NJSBA encouraged the Legislature to increase this line item by $55 million, as it did two years prior, to make more progress toward full funding of this critical program.
Additionally, the NJSBA told the legislative committees that it supports the governor’s proposed $50 million increase for preschool investment; including $26 million for new programs. This expansion will bring preschool to 30 new districts. NJSBA also supports the $75 million earmarked for the N.J. Schools Development Authority to support capital maintenance and emergent needs in school districts.
Last year, the NJSBA opposed efforts to eliminate the School Based Youth Services Program in the Department of Children and Families, and it was relieved to see the program restored in the final fiscal year 2021 budget. As one of the most effective state programs, it has consistently achieved positive results for students and parents across New Jersey and should not only be maintained, but strengthened and expanded. In its testimony, the NJSBA said it is pleased to see that proposed funding for school-linked services would increase to over $21.5 million in fiscal year 2022.
In closing its testimony, the NJSBA noted that many districts are not realizing the savings promised with the enactment of the 2020 teachers’ health care reform law, commonly referred to as “Chapter 44.” The NJSBA asked that, in the absence of more permanent legislative relief, the budget include some sort of aid for these districts to offset any financial losses they have experienced due to implementation of this new system.
Budget testimony was presented by NJSBA Legislative Advocate Christopher Jones. His testimony can be heard at the 27-minute, 40-second mark of this recording of the March 22 Assembly Budget Committee hearing.
The Legislature has until June 30 to adopt the governor’s budget, make revisions, or come up with a spending plan of its own.