NJ Gov. Murphy Approves $44.7M in Aid for School Districts Facing Budget Cuts

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signs two bills providing $44.7 million in grants and allowing property tax levy increases to help 140 school districts affected by significant budget cuts and potential staff reductions, aiming to maintain educational standards and prevent long-term consequences on the state's workforce and economy. The legislation responds to state funding decreases, which have forced districts to prepare budgets with program cuts and staffing reductions, and provides critical support to ensure high-quality public education in the state.

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NJ Gov. Murphy Approves $44.7M in Aid for School Districts Facing Budget Cuts

NJ Gov. Murphy Approves $44.7M in Aid for School Districts Facing Budget Cuts

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has signed two bills providing critical financial relief to over 140 school districts grappling with significant budget cuts and potential staff reductions. The legislation allocates $44.7 million in grants and allows for property tax levy increases to help offset the impact of state funding decreases on affected districts.

Why this matters: This decision has far-reaching implications for the quality of education in New Jersey, as it directly affects the ability of schools to maintain staff and programs. The long-term consequences of inadequate funding could lead to a decline in educational standards, ultimately impacting the state's workforce and economy.

The bills create a Stabilized School Budget Aid Grant Program, enabling the Department of Education to provide grants equal to 45% of a district's state school aid reduction for the 2024-25 school year. Districts experiencing reductions in state aid compared to the 2020-2021 school year can also request increases in their adjusted property tax levies above the 2% cap established under current law.

Governor Murphy emphasized the importance of supporting local school districts during challenging financial times. "With this legislation, we are giving local school districts critical support during trying times, as difficult financial realities muddy the already complex process of adopting a balanced budget," he stated. "I am pleased to provide relief to school districts facing reductions in aid."

The 140 affected districts, including Toms River Regional School District and Washington School District in Gloucester County, have been preparing budgets that cut programs and staffing to cope with the funding decreases. Toms River has proposed cutting 368 positions and increasing class sizes, while Washington faces eliminating 100 positions.

Lawmakers and education leaders praised the legislation as a crucial measure to support high-quality public education in the state. Senator Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) noted, "We have heard testimony from teachers, students, and parents of these cuts' devastating impact on their districts for months. This move will give additional support and sustain our standard of delivering high-quality public education."

Senator Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex) emphasized the importance of maintaining New Jersey's top-ranked public schools, stating, "Our public schools are the best in the nation. We cannot let them fall into disarray by asking districts to scale back spending year after year." He described the program as a stopgap measure to provide relief while lawmakers work on finding a stable long-term school funding solution.

The legislation comes as districts face a May 20 deadline for certifying their budgets and a day before they must notify nontenured staff about their employment status for the upcoming school year. It aims to help districts keep teachers in classrooms, maintain reasonable class sizes, and preserve valuable programs.

The bills are a response to the pandemic, inflation, and a hot housing market, which have pushed up property values in some districts, leading to outsized and unexpected cuts as the state completes the final year of a school-funding phase-in launched in 2018. Acting Education Commissioner Kevin Dehmer expects steep swings in school aid to abate after the coming school year, but lawmakers are exploring broader changes to the state's school funding formula to address ongoing challenges.

Key Takeaways

  • New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signs two bills to provide $44.7 million in grants to 140 school districts facing budget cuts.
  • The bills allow for property tax levy increases to offset state funding decreases and maintain staff and programs.
  • The legislation aims to prevent a decline in educational standards and its long-term impact on the state's workforce and economy.
  • Affected districts, such as Toms River and Washington, were preparing to cut programs and staff due to funding decreases.
  • The bills provide critical support to maintain high-quality public education in New Jersey, with lawmakers seeking a stable long-term school funding solution.