Acting Commissioner Discusses Funding, Assessment and More at Assembly Budget Hearing

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The Assembly Budget Committee met on April 23, 2018 to hear testimony on the FY 2019 State Budget from the Department of Education and the Schools Development Authority.  This meeting was subsequent to their counterparts in the Senate, who also met to hear this testimony on Tuesday, April 17th.

Dr. Lamont O. Repollet, Acting Commissioner, shared introductory remarks about the Department’s budget before taking questions from the committee.  Read Dr. Repollet’s full remarks here:

Charles McKenna represented the New Jersey Schools Development Authority, and was also available to answer questions from the Committee.

Dr. Repollet gave a brief overview of Governor Murphy’s budget proposal for the DOE.  He testified that from all sources, Governor Murphy has proposed to spend a total of $14.9 billion dollars for programs and services for students in pre-K to 12thgrade.  That would be an increase of approximately $900 million over last year.  

Some of the proposed investments Dr. Repollet highlighted include:  almost $500 million more for teacher pension and health benefits; growth of $148 million for School construction debt service; an added $107 million for special education; another $126 million for student transportation; and $66 million for school security. 

Additionally, the Governor’s proposed budget includes a $33 million increase to existing preschool programs and an additional $50 million to be dedicated to preschool expansion that would allow for the development of new preschool programs anticipated to add about 3500 more preschool students.

The Committee members then raised their questions and concerns that included a broad range of topics. Several members questioned the meaning of  “modernization” of the school funding formula after a decade of New Jersey failing to follow the provisions of the School Funding Reform Act during the state budget process.  Additional questions focused on concerns about budget cuts made to non-public school transportation, school nurses, and technology.  Stakeholders including parents from several negatively impacted school districts (Chesterfield, Red Bank, Kingsway) filled the hearing room to advocate for changes to this year’s funding levels for their districts.  Other issues raised in questions from the legislators included:

·         PARCC testing – Concerns expressed  about the future of PARCC testing and the cost associated with the roll out of new assessments;

·         TeachNJ – Questions raised about the use of test scores in educator evaluation;

·         Emergency aid – how is it granted and questions raised about some schools receiving this aid in the face of decreased enrollment;

·         Cap Banks – Questions about the number of districts utilizing cap banking provisions;

·         Lead testing – Questions about the status of district lead testing efforts and public communication of the results;

·         Vocational-technical  school funding, courtesy busing, and

·         SDA projects – concerns raised about the limited number of projects that are ongoing and the fact that South Jersey has been granted a disproportionately low number of projects.

A core concern expressed by several lawmakers was the issuance of state aid figures by the Governor, without recognition of last year’s state budget decisions on the phase out of adjustment aid and the limitations of growth/enrollment caps in the formula that hamper districts’ funding levels and the impact of the two percent property tax levy cap.  Acting Commissioner Repollet expressed the willingness of the Murphy Administration to meet with lawmakers to address these issues in the FY 2019 state budget.  What this means to local schools and districts is that your state aid figures may change if both the Governor and Legislature agree upon a different approach to state aid distribution this budget cycle.  Stay tuned!   

Monday’s hearing on the Education Department’s budget, including the funding of schools and educator’s pensions, is an integral part of the Legislature’s budget process.  If you have any questions about issues related to school funding, please contact the NJPSA Government Relations Department.