Assembly Republican Leader John DiMaio emphasized the need for more education funding to provide property tax relief at the New Jersey School Boards Association’s Legislative Committee meeting May 7.

Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, executive director of NJSBA, welcomed participants prior to DiMaio joining as a guest speaker. “You are citizen champions,” he told attendees, thanking them for the countless hours of time they devote to help the children of their district.

Irene LeFebvre, NJSBA president, echoed those sentiments and noted that the Legislative Committee meeting is the committee meeting where she usually learns the most.

The resources the state provides for public education are “just not enough,” DiMaio, who represents District 23, said. The formula should be revised “so we can do something to return property taxes to residents to make it easier to live here,” he said.

He added, “We make this huge investment – probably north of $200,000 per child to go all the way from pre-K to high school, and some leave the state to go to school and experience a different region … they look around and see the costs and stay there.”

Additional funding for education would keep families together and allow the state to realize a greater return on its investment, he said.

DiMaio also noted that the political landscape was altered in the last election cycle – and there is now a different mood in the state Legislature. “Sometimes, if you are running down a rail and a direction, you can do anything and do not know if you are running afoul of voters until something like this happens,” he said, referring to Republicans gaining seven seats in the Legislature, which is still controlled by the Democrats. “Hopefully, this brings about some change.”

To provide more school funding, the state must do a better job prioritizing what to spend money on, DiMaio said. He also pointed out that if the economy suffers a downturn, as many expect, anticipated revenue will be much less than the state expects.

While he’s in favor of property tax reform, DiMaio said that he’s not a big fan of rebates, stating that it is like “putting gauze on a wound.” It helps for a while, but it eventually falls off, he said. “It fades away over time, and it does not fully benefit a cross section of the community,” he said of such rebates.

Asked about the recent controversy over the state’s Comprehensive Health and Physical Education Standards for K-12 students, which have been the subject of media coverage and intense interest from many parents and community members in recent weeks, he expressed concern.

“I don’t know how much leeway you have on implementation, but I would take every inch of authority you have to tone it down,” he said, noting that he thinks the standards as written put “too much pressure” on children at too young of an age.

NJSBA Legislative Committee members also had the opportunity to ask DiMaio questions and comment on important issues. Topics included school regionalization, learning loss and unfunded mandates.

Legislative Developments

Jonathan Pushman, director of governmental relations at NJSBA, teamed up with John Burns, senior legislative counsel, to provide a snapshot of Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed fiscal year 2023 budget before updating members on legislative developments in Trenton.

The topic that garnered the most discussion was A-3816/S-2462, which would require certain public schools that receive state aid to begin regular instruction for high school students no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

Pushman noted that the NJSBA’s official position is that this is a matter that should be left up to local districts. Numerous participants called attention to how impractical such a bill would be, as it would cause problems with childcare, cause athletic events to run later, boost transportation costs and cause a host of other problems.

Burns noted that the move could also hurt students academically: Students who arrive home later from athletic events would get started on homework later – or perhaps not do it at all. Likewise, it could place a financial burden on students and their families, as it could affect the after-school employment of students, he said.

Other items highlighted included:

  • A-1281: extends the period of time for filing special education due process petitions related to COVID-19 school closures and periods of virtual, remote, hybrid, or in-person instruction. Status: Signed into law (P.L.2022, c.2).
  • S-464: Revises conditions for use of virtual or remote instruction to meet the minimum 180-day school year requirement. Status: Passed Senate.
  • A-677/S-896: Prohibits the State Board of Education from requiring the completion of a performance-based assessment as a condition of eligibility to earn a certificate of eligibility with advanced standing. Status: Passed Senate.

At the meeting, NJSBA staff also welcomed the Association’s new legislative advocate, Jesse Young, who previously worked at the New Jersey Department of Education.