The bill was fast-tracked to address concerns from school districts expecting state aid cuts under Gov. Phil Murphy's budget plan. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)
A bill that would provide $103 million in additional state funding for schools passed both chambers of the Legislature unanimously Thursday, with Republicans making failed attempts to push the aid figure higher.
The bill, introduced just two weeks ago, is meant to help school districts expected to see state aid slashed under Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed budget. Under the measure sent to the governor’s desk, and expected to be signed by Murphy, more than 160 school districts would receive additional aid for the upcoming school year.
The $103 million would restore about two-thirds of the $157 million expected to be cut under Murphy’s budget plan. The extra money ranges from a few hundred dollars to millions, with Jersey City’s school district getting the biggest chunk, $33.7 million.
Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D-Middlesex) said the bill shows there’s “nothing more important to us than to invest in the future of our children,” then criticized Republicans who he said characterized the bill as “a Band-Aid put on a shark bite.”
“I understand that perspective. But I would push back and say, it’s more like 103 million Band-Aids being put on this shark bite,” said Freiman, who sponsored the measure. “We intend on working on these issues going forward, to make sure every district is treated fairly.”
In order to claim the aid, districts would be required to submit written plans to the state education commissioner explaining what they need the money for and what they would have to cut if they didn’t receive it. The extra money would come from the state’s property tax relief fund.
In 2008, lawmakers passed a formula for funding schools that was revamped in 2018 in a law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy and known by its bill number, S2. The formula distributes state aid by weighing factors like district enrollment, poverty levels, and the number of students with limited English proficiency, and as it has been phased in, some districts have received more state aid annually, and some districts have received less.
Assemblywoman Marylin Piperno (R-Monmouth) on Thursday proposed an amendment to the new funding bill that would have restored school funding to its 2017-18 levels and repealed S2 cuts for the upcoming school year.
“Cutting school funding is unacceptable, and a huge shame on you for not supporting our children’s futures,” Piperno said. “The state has the resources.”
The amendment was tabled before lawmakers could vote on it. In the Senate, Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) proposed the same amendment, but it was also shot down. O’Scanlon has criticized Democrats for not agreeing to take some money from the planned $10 billion surplus in Murphy’s budget plan and giving it to school districts as aid.
Assemblyman Gregory McGuckin (R-Ocean) demanded to know why the formula is not only difficult to obtain — some South Jersey school districts sued the Murphy administration in 2020 to get a written copy of it — but also too complicated to understand.
“No one can explain it, how in a middle-class neighborhood with a median income of $80,000, it’s cut 30%, but maybe in another municipality, in another town with a median income of $120,000 receives millions more,” he said. “The formula is stupid.”
Both Democrats and Republicans seem to agree an overhaul of the funding formula is critical.
“What we did today helped, yes, but as Assemblyman Freiman said, we put 103 million Band-Aids on something. How many Band-Aids are we going to have to use next year?”Assemblyman Branden Umba (R-Burlington) said. “It’s just bad policy. I’d rather have 154 million Band-Aids and a new formula for next year.”
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