A last night deal between the two branches of the Legislature ended a budget stalemate late July 3 in time for state parks and beaches to reopen for the July 4 holiday.
A three-day government shutdown that seemed to come out of nowhere ended in the wee hours of the Fourth of July after Gov. Chris Christie struck a grand budget bargain — his last — with the Democratic leaders of the Legislature. Interestingly, holding up the $34.7 billion spending plan for fiscal 2018 wasn’t aid for schools or even a once controversial lottery proposal which sought to dump the asset into the pension funds. Rather, it was a controversial piece of legislation to overhaul the state’s largest health insurance company, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield.
School Funding Changes
Central to the budget agreement reached by Christie and Democratic leaders in the state Senate and Assembly was an additional $150 million in school funding as follows:
- An increase in $100 million for schools currently below ‘adequacy’ above the Governor’s flat funding proposal;
- An increase in $25 million for pre-school expansion that will go to 17 districts with at-risk concentrations and sufficient bandwidth to begin work this year; and
- An additional $25 million in Extraordinary Special Education funding
Smaller sums were also added for a variety of other programs including: $23.8 million in non-public school aid for security, nursing services, and other programs; $4 million for adult education in the state’s county vo-tech schools; and $3 million for vo-tech partnership grants.
The changes also attempt to move New Jersey back to the state’s school funding law. And, while the additional money is a small fraction of the estimated $2 billion gap between what the state’s school districts receive and what the law calls for, one has to acknowledge that the total amount of funding for schools is close to a third of the total state budget.
But, the changes also come with pain. More than 100 districts will lose money under the deal. Specifically, these districts will see a decrease in the amount of state aid allocated because they are ‘above adequacy.’
Thankfully there was some movement during budget deliberations on how these districts are affected (down from the initial Sweeney/Prieto proposal of $46 million in cuts to $31 million. The revised budget document modified the cut ‘methodology’ from a cap of not more than 1.5 percent of a district’s total budget to ‘Unfortunately in these things, timing is everything and cutting districts this late (post levy due date of May 19) may prove problematic. Luckily, t
And, the budget also seeks to address the underfunding of over 300 oinconsequential.