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NJEA weighs in on governor’s budget plan

Published on Wednesday, April 10, 2013

 Wendell Steinhaur
“Don’t be fooled by the number of districts listed as getting increases,” said NJEA Vice President Wendell Steinhauer in his testimony. “Forty of them are getting only one dollar more than last year.”

Testifying before the Assembly Budget Committee at Rutgers Law School April 9, NJEA Vice President Wendell Steinhauer said Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed budget for FY14 “falls short” for public schools, failing to offset nearly $3.6 billion in cuts to education over the past three years.

Steinhauer asserted that the governor’s claim that 370 public schools will see state aid hikes in his plan is misleading and masks the fact that some would get such a small increase that it’s virtually meaningless.

 “Don’t be fooled by the number of districts listed as getting increases,” he said.  “Forty of them are getting only one dollar more than last year.  Two more districts get a two dollar increase.”

Figure in another 41 districts with increases under $10,000 and the result is that nearly half of New Jersey’s public school districts are essentially flat-funded, Steinhauer told members of the committee in their final public hearing on the budget.  But even flat funding will lead to a “reduction in opportunities” for students, he said.

“With costs rising beyond the control of districts, flat funding is not truly flat.  Even those districts that are slated to see small increases will find themselves falling further and further behind what the Legislature deemed adequate funding when it created the current school funding formula just a few years ago,” said Steinhauer.

Funding in this budget plan falls $1.2 billion short of requirements in the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA).  The total shortfall in state aid for public education in the last four budgets now approaches $4.8 billion.

While acknowledging that the state’s deficit may have “grown too wide to make up the difference this year,” Steinhauer pointed out that increased “state aid to corporations”—more than $2 billion in the last three years—is exacerbating the problem.

“I urge you to reprioritize and direct more resources to more students, even if that means diverting tax dollars targeted to increased corporate welfare and tax cuts for profitable businesses,” he said.

Funding in this budget plan falls $1.2 billion short of requirements in the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA). The total shortfall in state aid for public education in the last four budgets now approaches $4.8 billion.

Steinhauer also commented on a number of other issues raised by Gov. Christie’s budget, including private school vouchers, a new program the governor calls the “Education Innovation Fund,” and cuts to higher education programs. 

He also urged the governor and the Legislature to find ways to increase the contribution to the pension system.  While the budget includes the state’s minimum legally required payment, it is still not in line with actuarial recommendations for restoring solvency to the system.

Noting that vouchers have no track record of success and are routinely rejected by the public in opinion polls, Steinhauer urged legislators to oppose state funding that the governor wants to divert to private, for-profit and religious schools.

“It is unconscionable to offer a $2 million subsidy to private schools while telling more than 200 public school districts that they will get no increase in funding at all,” he said.

He also asked them to reject the governor’s request for $5 million for an “Education Innovation Fund” until he explains what he means by that.  NJEA’s concern is that the monies would be used to promote unproven instructional models such as virtual charter schools.

“In such a tight budget, using $5 million on untested programs that will profit private vendors but not students is irresponsible,” Steinhauer said.

He also expressed concern about a $3.2 million cut to the STARS programs that help financially-strapped New Jersey high school graduates attend institutions of higher education.

Alan Kaufman, chairperson of NJEA’s Higher Education Committee, expressed the same concern March 20 at a hearing of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee at William Paterson University.

“Suffice it to say that if the proposed FY2014 funding to STARS is adopted, we will have seen a 50 percent cut in state support since FY2011,” Kaufman said.  “We are squeezing our finest students out of their best opportunities for academic attainment and future economic success.”

Regarding a proposed $3.7 million hit to higher education aid, Kaufman said:  “This level of funding to county colleges from the state is unsustainable.  If we are going to march into the future with a well-educated and –prepared citizenry, we just must do better.”


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