On Tuesday, May 8th, the Joint Committee on the Public Schools met to discuss school facility issues and receive an update from the Schools Development Authority.
Charles B. McKenna, Director of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority gave a presentation that included recent school openings, the impact they have had on the students and the community, as well as how the SDA has been able to help address the ever increasing problem of overcrowding.
Following this presentation, representatives from various educational advocacy groups shared current challenges of the school facilities issue. Highlights from a couple of the speakers include:
Cynthia Rice, Advocates for Children of New Jersey testified about how school facilities – or the lack thereof – are driving district decisions on how best to provide programs for preschoolers and kindergartners. Rice noted that if the goal of our state and local districts is to ensure that the maximum number of our young students have the academic and social and emotional skills to be successful in school and in life, policymakers must think differently about facilities. A mixed delivery system of public preschool, private provider and Head Start classrooms has proved successful for the former Abbot Districts preschool programs, and in fact, is viewed throughout the country as a national model.
Betsey Ginsburg, Garden State Coalition of Schools spoke about the need to fund monies for regular operating school districts to address school facility needs, specifically affirming that ROD grants for regular operating districts must be a component of the school facility solution in New Jersey. Noting that the first four rounds of ROD were highly successful, the GSCS called on the Legislature to leverage the success of the program to provide a fifth round of funding in an effort to support communities, address facility needs, and mitigate an increasing tax impact.
Judy Savage from the NJ Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools attested to the rising demand for CTE programs,, (up 34% since 2000). On a statewide average, there are almost 2.3 applicants for every available seat in a county vocational school. In 2018, out of almost 30,000 students that had applied to county vocational-technical schools, roughly 17,000 could not be accepted due to program capacity.
John Donahue from the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials highlighted the challenges confronting New Jersey school districts in providing and maintaining healthy and safe facilities within the limits of the current tax levy cap law. Urging the Legislature to consider placing annual capital costs outside a district’s budgetary limits, Mr. Donahue recommended letting local boards of education decide if they wish to pass such increases on to their residents.
Assemblywoman Jasey recognizing the several important points made by all of the presenters, suggested a “Part 2” of this meeting in the near future. Stay tuned for more to come on school facilities!
Currently, legislation has been introduced by Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin to address some of the pent-up demand for school construction funds in school districts. S-2293 /A-3902 , the Career and Technical Education Bond Act would authorize $500 million in general obligation bonds to finance county vocational ($450 million) and county college ($50 million) capital projects in order to increase career and technical education program capacity. Amendments to the legislation add an additional $250 million in bonding capacity to address school security issues within the K-12 system. The legislation is currently pending action in the Assembly.