The new law exempts some regional school districts from state aid cuts that Freehold Regional school officials blamed for their slashed transportation budget. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)
Thousands of Monmouth County students will keep their free busing under a narrowly written bill that Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law Wednesday.
The law exempts school districts from scheduled state aid cuts if they meet certain criteria, including that they must consist of at least five towns and have raised taxes by the 2.5% maximum over the last five years. The law affects only Freehold Township Regional High School District and Rancocas Valley Regional High School, according to the Senate Democrats’ office.
Officials with the Freehold district, which serves over 3,000 students from eight towns, blamed proposed state aid cuts when it slashed its transportation budget earlier this year. The change would have ended busing for students who live within 2.5 miles of the school, or about 30% of the school’s population.
Under the controversial S2 funding formula, the Freehold district was set to lose $6.8 million in state funding in the upcoming school year.
The law goes into effect immediately, meaning it will halt the scheduled state aid cuts.
Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth), who represents some of the towns within the district and cosponsored the legislation, said in a statement the law “recognizes the tremendous work Freehold Regional has done to control costs through regionalization and will preserve essential services in the district going forward.”
“This has been a long road and I want to thank all of the parents, students, and stakeholders who have advocated for this outcome, as the future of Freehold Regional looks very bright,” Freehold Regional Superintendent Charles Sampson said in a statement from Gopal’s campaign.
Though the bill received bipartisan support when the Legislature approved it — Republican Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, who represents some of the Freehold Regional district, was a cosponsor — there were detractors. Assemblyman Branden Umba (R-Burlington) said during a committee hearing in June that by approving the bill, lawmakers were tossing aside the school funding formula just to help Freehold Regional.
“We’re not solving the problem … We are picking winners and losers,” Umba said then.
The bill passed the Senate 23-8 and the Assembly 55-23.
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