TRENTON, March 8, 2012 – Parents, Board of Education members, and Superintendents from fifteen communities across New Jersey discussed the impact of the State’s persistent underfunding of public education at a mid-day Statehouse event organized by the grassroots group Save Our Schools NJ.
Organizers pointed to more than $3.6 billion in school funding cuts since 2010, including $715 million in Governor Christie’s proposed 2012-13 State Budget. That Budget would underfund almost 90% of all school districts across the state.
“New Jersey has a school funding formula which distributes state aid based on the needs of individual children, wherever they live,” said Julia Sass Rubin, a Save Our Schools NJ spokesperson. “The proposed FY 2013 State Budget would underfund that formula for the fourth year in a row. Underfunding our schools not only shortchanges our children’s future, it also places an increased burden on local communities in the form of higher property taxes and fees.”
Piscataway Superintendent Robert Copeland echoed this theme in discussing his district’s shortfall of almost $24 million since 2010. “If we were fully funded, we could restore all of our programs and reduce the average property tax bill by close to $1,000.” As a result of the funding cuts, “the taxpayers will never see that money, which is theirs,” said Copeland.
Lisa Winter, a Basking Ridge parent, detailed some of the educational fallout from her district’s almost $9 million state aid shortfall since 2010, including “significant class size increases at all school levels, the elimination of World Language at the elementary schools, elimination of enrichment activities at the elementary and middle schools and elimination of almost all middle school extracurricular activities.” Winter also raised concerns about the deteriorating condition of the district’s schools, which greatly increases the challenge of keeping up with “capital repairs and improvements.”
South Brunswick parent Lisa Grieco-Rodgers said that her district’s $28 million shortfall in state aid had resulted in “three consecutive years of double digit staff reductions, totaling more than 170 teachers and other staff members.” The proposed FY 2013 budget would underfund the district by an additional $10 million. “If we stay on this course, we have the makings of a perfect storm,” said Grieco-Rodgers, “jeopardizing the Blue Ribbon status of South Brunswick schools.”
Grieco-Rodgers and others also spoke of the disproportionate impact of the funding cuts on districts that have larger percentages of low-income and non-English speaking students, who require significantly more resources to educate. The Governor’s FY 2013 budget proposes to permanently reduce state aid for these two groups of students.
The districts most adversely impacted by these changes would be those with the largest concentrations of low-income and non English-speaking students. Camden, for example, would permanently lose $27 million a year in addition to the $24 million it has been underfunded since 2010. “We can't continue cheating our children,” said Camden parent Mo'Neke Ragsdale, pointing to the district’s inability to offset the State funding cuts through higher property taxes.
However, Teaneck Board of Education member Margot Embree Fisher pointed out that wealthier districts such as Teaneck also “would be hard hit by these proposed changes.” Fisher said that Teaneck’s underfunding of more than $8 million since 2010 had made it very challenging for the district to “provide an excellent education to all students.” The district faces additional cuts of $1.6 million this year, including a permanent reduction of almost a million dollars a year going forward, which Fisher described as “devastating."
Other wealthier districts that would feel the impact of the proposed permanent funding cuts for low income and non-English speaking students include South Brunswick, which would lose $3 million a year, and Princeton, which would lose more than $1 million.
Mary Shaughnessy, President of the Bloomfield Board of Education, said that her district’s free and reduced lunch population had increased by 45% over the last 10 years. The proposed reduction in aid for this group of students would translate into a $2.6 million permanent funding cut for the district. Shaughnessy said this would be particularly damaging since the district was already facing a State funding deficit of almost $26 million since 2010.
Summarizing the group’s overall sentiment, Lisa Winter of Basking Ridge said, “New Jersey’s excellent schools are the crown jewel of our state – the reason so many families and business move here and stay here. A further reduction in State education aid after the drastic cuts of the last three years would be devastating to our schools.”
Save Our Schools NJ (www. saveourschoolsnj.org) is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization of parents and other concerned residents who believe that all New Jersey children should have access to a high quality public education.