NJ school aid: Protesters jeer money cuts, but formula unlikely to change
Watch the protest in Trenton in the video above.TRENTON - Gov. Phil Murphy, in his budget address Tuesday, doubled down on a new school-funding formula that brought applause from lawmakers assembled in the Statehouse and jeers from throngs of school leaders protesting outside while bracing for cuts in state aid.New Jerseyans can expect to hear even more of the latter as details of the governor's spending plan are unveiled. As with his first budget, the governor's new spending plan will make fiscal winners and well-amplified losers throughout the state, with many suburban districts coming up short. Murphy announced $206 million in new direct aid to K-12 schools during his budget address before lawmakers, while hundreds of students, school administrators and elected officials gathered outside and decried an expected second year of cuts.
School districts protest proposed budget cuts ahead of Governor Murphy's state budget address on Tuesday, March 5, 2019, in Trenton. Danielle Parhizkaran, NorthJersey
Overall, K-12 funding was up $450 million. In addition to new direct aid, the increase includes more money for school construction, expanded preschool and special education. But Tuesday's crowd of shouting protesters, and the communities they came from, are likely only to see cuts from the state's pool of $15.4 billion for public schools. Each of 72 districts represented at the protest will face critical decisions about teacher layoffs, programs cuts and rising taxes over the next six years, due to a redistribution of state aid in a funding formula called "S2."APP editorial: Let the paring to N.J. budget begin"Save our schools" chanted students in varsity jackets from various Toms River Regional schools. A Haddon Township, Camden County, school board member held a sign that read "Reform the School Funding Reform Act."
One student held a sign that read, "Don't cut our budgets and our futures." Brick Mayor John G. Ducey stood among the crowd as well — the school district in his community could cut 290 educator jobs in the coming years as a result of $42 million in cumulative losses.They came by the busload from across New Jersey to protest a redistribution of state aid called "S2" which will cut holes in their budgets over the next six years.Related: What we learned from Gov. Phil Murphy's $38.6B budget proposal"We're really terrified of what this will do to us," said Anna Polozzo, a Toms River Regional school board member who attended the protest.
See more from the protest in Trenton in the gallery above.But inside the Statehouse, Murphy's budget was met with applause Tuesday. He promised to increase money for preschool expansion by $68.4 million, to a total of $806.5 million. His administration committed $500 million — a $32.4 million increase — toward school construction projects.Politics: Full text of Phil Murphy's 2020 NJ budget address"Together, we are beginning to properly fund our public schools, strengthening a public education engine that is the foundation for the middle class — and, at the same time, providing much needed property tax relief," the governor said in his budget address.
For most schools in New Jersey, that will be the case, particularly in some of the neediest, fastest-growing school districts, such as the Freehold Borough School District. This school district was once so overcrowded that its library was converted to extra classroom space. The new funding formula, enacted last summer, enabled district officials to hire more teachers, lower class sizes, and offer more support services to English language learners and students with special educational needs, Superintendent Rocco Tomazic said.Freehold Borough: Paid parking plans on holdTomazic said he is not yet sure that Murphy's administration is continuing to follow its S2 funding plan — he won't know until his district receives its aid numbers later this week— but he is optimistic.S2 would raise funding by about $1.1 million each year for Freehold Borough schools over the next six years, the superintendent said. That money will be used to reduce crowding throughout the district, where class sizes can still run as high as 27 students, Tomazic said.
Other district officials are also waiting on news of their aid numbers, but with feelings of foreboding. Many of the schools facing cuts have experienced declining student populations, so their officials anticipate reductions in state aid to be deeper this year than last.Patrick McAleer, superintendent of Pitman Public Schools in Gloucester County, said his five-school district was facing a 15 percent to 20 percent cut in state aid. "No one begrudges those underfunded districts from getting the aid that they deserve, and those kids deserve that aid," he said, "(But) I have a problem with the implementation as it's written in S2. There was no nuance to it. It was a cleaver instead of a scalpel."Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, the champion of the S2 formula, told the USA TODAY Network New Jersey that there was "not a chance" he would consider changing the formula.Senate Republicans have posed their own formula, one that focuses funds on special education and eliminates geographic cost adjustments in the formula.With Democrats holding control of the Legislature and administration, the Republican plan is unlikely to gain traction in the near future.The Asbury Park Press is committed to bringing you in-depth education and school news. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing.Education: Brick teachers, administrators strike a tentative contract dealOcean County: Lakewood public school students will ride private buses next yearContributing: Nicholas PuglieseAmanda Oglesby: @OglesbyAPP; 7323-557-5701; firstname.lastname@example.org
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