Murphy’s budget plan adds millions in K-12 school aid, expands free preschool

By: - March 10, 2022 5:48 pm

(Courtesy of the New Jersey Governor’s Office)

New Jersey schools would get an extra $650 million in state funding and millions more to expand free preschool under the $48.9 billion budget proposal Gov. Phil Murphy announced this week.

Murphy’s plan would boost K-12 funding to almost $19.2 billion. The governor detailed his school spending plan during a visit Thursday to James Monroe Elementary School in Edison with acting Department of Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan and other education and political leaders.

“Every new dollar of state aid is a new dollar for property tax relief,” Murphy said. “It is a new dollar to keep this community affordable.”

New Jersey’s school funding formula is governed by a 2008 law, the School Funding Reform Act, that’s intended to steer state aid to students who most need it, with more money allocated to lower-income districts that can’t raise enough revenue locally to meet local schools’ needs. Funding levels are driven by student enrollment, with additional funds for low-income students and those learning English.

But the state since then has failed to fully fund the formula, leaving many districts sorely underfunded. And some provisions in that law, like enrollment caps, left some districts overfunded and others underfunded.

Lawmakers passed a law in 2018 known as S2 to remedy the inequities, and New Jersey now is in the fifth year of a seven-year phase-in of that fair-funding plan. Education reformers have applauded S2 for restoring much-needed funding to underprivileged districts. But students and residents in overfunded districts that saw deep cuts have protested.

The imbalance, meanwhile, has especially hurt students in districts in communities of color, according to a report released last week by the Education Law Center. That report found Black and Latino students are far more likely to attend underfunded schools, while white and Asian students typically attend adequately funded or overfunded districts.

In an effort to restore equity, the Murphy administration has boosted annual state aid to schools almost $1.8 billion since he took office in 2018, according to budget documents.

His proposal for the upcoming budget year includes a 7% jump in formula aid, to $9.9 billion, according to the budget brief. It also provides $20 million in “stabilization aid,” which is one-time assistance for districts struggling with cuts as districts adjust to new funding levels.

One public education watchdog cheered Murphy’s school aid plan as “pretty huge.”

“They’ve made a lot of progress in terms of closing the gap to full funding,” said Danielle Farrie, research director at the Education Law Center. “Going into the new school year, there’s about $1.5 billion of outstanding state aid owed to districts, and Murphy is proposing $835.6 million in new or redistributed funding, which will close that gap by more than half. He’s definitely following through on his promise to get to full funding. This is a significant investment.”

Farrie thinks that growth in state aid will help erase racial inequities.

“The inequity that has been allowed to resurface in our formula has been a real black mark on the state,” Farrie said. “This commitment to state funding is really important in terms of making the initial steps to eliminating those racial disparities in funding.”

Murphy’s budget plan also includes an additional $68 million for free preschool, $40 million of which is earmarked to serve an additional 3,000 3- and 4-year-old children in districts now without state-supported preschool. That bumps total preschool spending up to $992 million, Allen-McMillan said.

Since Murphy took office, his administration has increased pre-K spending by more than $310 million, as the state moves toward a goal of universal pre-K.

Other proposed spending includes:

  • $5 million to implement climate change education
  • $2 million to remedy learning loss through strategies like reading acceleration and professional development
  • $4.5 million for before- and after-school care for low-income students
  • $2 million to support computer science
  • $1.3 million to improve teacher diversity

Sean Spiller, president of the New Jersey Education Association, applauded Murphy’s recommendations to increase school spending.

“We have the best schools in the nation, because our governor and our legislators, they invest in our schools,” Spiller said. “That’s not just an easy thing to do. That takes courage at times. And certainly, it’s seeing that vision for the future.”

It’s especially needed as students try to recover from two years of pandemic-related academic challenges, he added.

“As we look ahead, we all know that we’ve got a lot of work to do focusing on the social, emotional needs of our students and staff,” Spiller said.

The governor also recommended a $94 million increase in Garden State Guarantee, which covers tuition costs for low-income students at public four-year colleges.

The budget plan includes funding so the state can raise the income threshold for low-income students to get free tuition at one of the state’s 18 community colleges. It also would create a new program called ‘some college, no degree,’ which is intended to encourage college completion.

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.

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