Murphy promotes level school aid, says federal funds to follow
For the second straight day, Gov. Phil Murphy held a public event on a Central Jersey football field – this time in the end zone at Somerville High School, where he sort of spiked the football, rhetorically.
Murphy, who a day earlier delivered a speech introducing his revised budget plan at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium, hit the road Wednesday to tout the spending plan’s nearly $8.7 billion in formula aid to schools, with two-thirds of districts seeing increases, and $68 million more spending on pre-K programs.
“I’m proud that because of the decision we made to not abandon our priorities and our values, we have been able to ensure that school aid remained at record levels,” Murphy said.
“The price of the current emergency should not be paid with the futures of the next generation of New Jerseyans,” he said.
That’s not to say school aid hasn’t gotten dinged by the coronavirus, which decimated state revenues and has compelled the state to look to borrow $4 billion, about 10% of its yearly operating budget.
When cuts to the budget plan were made in May, then approved by the Legislature in June, among the spending removed was $336 million in formula aid, bringing the total to essentially even with last year. No districts received additional cuts, but those that were gaining saw those increases shrink.
Murphy noted that Somerville is receiving an extra $268,000, but that was originally supposed to be $842,000 before getting zapped by $575,000 in the first revisions to the budget. That wasn’t addressed by any of the political figures who spoke at Murphy’s event, which included no local school officials.
“This budget was not, is not an easy one. It has spending cuts. It has pain,” Murphy said. “But a decision we made from moment one was that we would put a ring fence essentially around public education, from pre-K up through 12.”
The Education Law Center said the state owes $1.9 billion to districts funded below what's needed for a "thorough and efficient" system of education, roughly half of that to urban, former Abbott districts. It also cuts $153 million from 196 districts.
Murphy and interim Education Commissioner Kevin Dehmer also said the state is allocating $100 million from its $2.39 billion share of federal money in the Coronavirus Relief Fund to help schools defray the costs of reopening and provide – eventually, in some districts – safe, in-person instruction.
“Every district and charter school will receive funding through this program, with additional support directed to assist districts serving our state’s neediest children,” Dehmer said.
A specific formula or allocations haven’t yet been announced. Dehmer said districts that aren’t able to open their school doors in September can use the funds to address remaining health and safety barriers and those that are already meeting protocols can help afford to keep doing so.
“This is another example of how we are working to ensure safety our students and school staff and to provide a quality education to all children in New Jersey,” he said.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.