(The Center Square) — New Jersey’s schools will be spared deep budget cuts next year under a new deal reached between Gov. Phil Murphy and a group of Democratic lawmakers being fast-tracked through the state Legislature.
The proposal, which was unanimously approved by the Senate Monday, calls for spending $102.7 million in one-time supplemental state aid to school districts to help them offset a projected $157 million in revenue losses in the next fiscal year from changes to the state’s school funding formula.
That would restore roughly 66% of the funding expected to be cut from about 160 school districts under Murphy’s proposed fiscal year 2024 budget.
“As we work towards ensuring equitable access to the high-quality education every student deserves, this supplemental funding will support districts in adjusting to changes in aid under our state’s school funding formula,” Murphy said in a statement.
Assemblyman Roy Freiman, D-Middlesex, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said the additional funding would ease schools’ financial pressures and prevent deep cuts in education.
“After all of the disruption to learning through the pandemic, the last thing we need is for families to worry about teachers being laid off or services being cut,” he said.
Under the plan, districts would be required to submit a written plan to state education officials explaining how they will use the additional funding and how they will operate in coming years, without supplemental money. The one-time allocations would come from the state’s property tax relief fund.
“Our schools have come under tremendous pressures over the past three years due to the pandemic, ranging from uncertainty about resources, learning recovery and a growing teacher shortage,” Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, another sponsor, said in a statement. “Now is not the time for more uncertainty, nor the time for districts to be asked to do with less at the precise moment they are trying to recover some sense of normalcy.”
The funding cuts were expected under an update to the state’s education funding formula, which determines how much each school district gets in state aid, taking into account enrollment, poverty levels, and other factors.
Lawmakers have made several changes to the formula over the years aimed at evening out funding disparities between districts, but critics say the changes have some school districts waiting long periods of time to find out how much money they will get from the state.
Changes to the state’s education funding formula have also drawn the attention of the federal government, which in 2021 ordered the state to restore millions of dollars in funding cuts to some of the state’s most impoverished school districts.
Republican lawmakers have called on the state to fully fund school districts and require local governments to return property taxes based on the new amount of aid received, but those efforts have so far been rejected by the Democratic majority in the state Assembly and Senate.
“Restoring two-thirds of the funding that Gov. Murphy proposed cutting from our children’s schools isn’t good enough. We need to restore 100%,” state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, said in remarks in the Senate Monday. “We Republicans have been arguing for this for several years.”