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2-27-13 In the News - Governor's State Budget Message...State School Aid, more
GSCS Note: In-Depth Analysis to come, with release of state school aid district-by-district figures tomorrow, February 28.

The Record - Christie budget includes $97M more for N.J. schools, but critics warn it's far from enough “…Details on how much each district will receive are expected Thursday. Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, which represents mostly suburban systems, said, “Districts were worried about losing aid, so this puts that concern aside, but we do need to take a good look at how it’s laid out district by district.”

Star Ledger - School vouchers, aid increase, included in Christie budget “…The modest increase was welcome in a state that just a few years ago saw Christie cut nearly $1 billion from schools. "I imagine we'll get flat funding, and we're thankful for that," said Marlboro School Superintendent David Abbott. His district lost $6.2 million in the 2010 cut…”

NJ Spotlight - Christie Won't Give Up on School Voucher Program…Governor vows to fight on, even though proposed $2 million pilot is just a shadow of original, supersized program of 2010

Newsday-Associated Press - Christie's $32.9B NJ budget expands Medicaid “New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie proposed a $32.9 billion budget Tuesday that allows more poor residents to enroll in Medicaid and increases public school aid but defers property tax rebates for three months to cover a projected budget shortfall…”

 

The Record - Christie budget includes $97M more for N.J. schools, but critics warn it's far from enough   “…Details on how much each district will receive are expected Thursday. Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, which represents mostly suburban systems, said, “Districts were worried about losing aid, so this puts that concern aside, but we do need to take a good look at how it’s laid out district by district.”

Tuesday February 26, 2013, 10:17 PM

BY LESLIE BRODY AND MELISSA HAYES

STAFF WRITERS

The Christie administration touted its plan for nearly $9 billion in aid to local schools — a proposed $97 million increase for the next fiscal year — as giving “historic support” for education while seeking to change a formula for allocating aid that has been litigated for decades.

Within that total, unveiled as part of Governor Christie’s budget address to the Legislature on Tuesday, 378 districts would receive more money next year while the rest of the state’s roughly 600 districts would see their funding remain flat. Overall, so-called formula aid to the districts would rise by $64 million.

But the New Jersey Education Association — the state’s largest teachers union — and other critics immediately complained that the increase was insufficient and would result in cuts to programs, staff and services at a time when schools face costly mandates for updating teacher evaluations and gearing up for new standardized tests.

Christie also called for a $2 million pilot project that would enable about 200 children in chronically failing schools to attend out-of-district public or private schools. He has pushed aggressively for corporate tax credits to pay private tuition for poor students and said he wouldn’t “abandon” those families, but such voucher-style bills have been defeated repeatedly by lawmakers for more than a decade.

And David Sciarra, attorney for the Education Law Center, which has fought for decent schooling on behalf of poor children for decades, said Tuesday the governor’s attempt to start a voucher program by including it in the state budget was an “an illegal end run around the Legislature’s power and authority.”

Opponents argue that such scholarships drain public schools of cash they desperately need. Some also say they are a handout to bolster Catholic schools with declining enrollments.

The budget plan adds more money for charters and preschools. It also creates a new $17 million pot of assistance for 131 districts that in the past got much less aid than the state’s school funding law said they should: The goal is to bring them closer to what the law deems to be adequate funding to provide a thorough education.

Battles are likely to continue over how much extra help schools should get for teaching children with challenges, such as those who are poor, bilingual or so disabled they need out-of-district placements. Last week, the Assembly and Senate passed resolutions objecting to the administration’s efforts to trim the extra dollars sent to districts to help pay for each at-risk child. The Education Law Center wrote a letter to the attorney general to underscore that these extra resources are required by the state funding formula.

Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff said in a budget briefing Tuesday that the administration still believes the modification of that funding formula “makes fiscal and educational sense, so this year we’re going to be resubmitting that methodology with a couple of minor adjustments and we’ll see where it goes.”

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-River Vale, said that while she applauded the overall aid increase, Bergen County schools would see a “negligible amount” of additional assistance. She said lawmakers needed to “see if there is some sort of means of creatively changing the school funding formula.”

Details on how much each district will receive are expected Thursday. Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, which represents mostly suburban systems, said, “Districts were worried about losing aid, so this puts that concern aside, but we do need to take a good look at how it’s laid out district by district.”

The budget also allots $5 million to a new “innovation fund” to improve the use of technology.

Email: brody@northjersey.com. Twitter: @lesliebrody and hayes@northjersey.com

Star Ledger - School vouchers, aid increase, included in Christie budget   “…The modest increase was welcome in a state that just a few years ago saw Christie cut nearly $1 billion from schools. "I imagine we'll get flat funding, and we're thankful for that," said Marlboro School Superintendent David Abbott. His district lost $6.2 million in the 2010 cut…”

By Jeanette Rundquist/The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger
on February 26, 2013 at 5:42 PM, updated February 26, 2013 at 10:18 PM

TRENTON — Inside the nearly $9 billion that Gov. Chris Christie's budget allocates for schools is funding to revive a controversial pilot program that would, for the first time, offer scholarships for students to attend private and parochial schools with public money.

The budget includes $2 million to create a pilot "opportunity scholarship" program, that would allow about 200 children to transfer from failing public schools to private schools.

Christie has touted the idea of opportunity scholarships — or school vouchers — since entering office, but the idea has failed to win legislative approval. Today, he proposed a way.

"Any child in a chronically failing school should have the choice to find a better one, whether it be out-of-district or non-public," he said. "I have been fighting for three years to end the abandonment of these children and their families. Today, that fight continues."

And a fight may be ahead.

The Newark-based Education Law Center said only the Legislature, through separate legislation, can enact such a program into law.

"The governor's attempt to use the budget bill, which is strictly limited to appropriations, to put in place a voucher pilot program that has not gained the support of legislators over the last several years is an illegal end run ," said ELC Executive Director David Sciarra. "This proposal should be dead on arrival."

Others said the matter may not be so clear-cut, however, and that the proposal could be enacted through the budget appropriations bill, without separate legislation.

In terms of overall K-12 school spending, Christie's budget includes an additional $97.3 million for schools, which will increase state aid to 378 of the state's roughly 600 school districts. No district will see a reduction in aid, he said.

The modest increase was welcome in a state that just a few years ago saw Christie cut nearly $1 billion from schools .

"I imagine we'll get flat funding, and we're thankful for that," said Marlboro School Superintendent David Abbott. His district lost $6.2 million in the 2010 cut.

The New Jersey School Boards Association also called the numbers promising, especially in a climate where the threat of federal "sequestration" cuts could take millions away from the state's schools.

Individual districts won't know where the numbers fall until district-by-district aid numbers are released, however. That is expected to happen by Thursday.

"That will tell the whole story," said Frank Belluscio, communications director and deputy executive director of the association.

Christie's budget also included $5 million for an "Education Innovation Fund" for the state's schools.

Christie proposed a modest increase in parts of the higher education budget, including a $17 million increase in Tuition Aid Grant funding to help low-income students pay for college. The state's private four-year colleges will also get a $1 million increase in funding under the governor's proposal.

But Christie did not propose any large increases for the rest of the state's colleges and universities, noting they are getting $1.6 billion in state and private funds for building projects. That money includes the historic $750 million higher education bond issue approved by the voters in November. The state will borrow the bond money and divide it among the state's two- and four-year colleges to fund the construction and renovation of classrooms and labs.

Star-Ledger staff writers Jessica Calefati and Kelly Heyboer contributed to this report

 

NJ Spotlight - Christie Won't Give Up on School Voucher Program…Governor vows to fight on, even though proposed $2 million pilot is just a shadow of original, supersized program of 2010

By John Mooney, February 27, 2013 in Education

Despite coming close to being passed on occasion, a school voucher program is the one major piece of Gov. Chris Christie's education agenda that he's never been able to push through -- unlike tenure reform, charter schools, and performance pay for teachers.

Now Christie is making one more run at vouchers in his fourth budget, and his proposal for a modest $2 million pilot is likely to grab the headlines and spark the loudest debate -- in an education budget nearing $12.4 billion.

The biggest chunk of change is state aid to schools, an $8.9 billion package that Christie wants to boost by 1 percent next year. That translates into a small bump for about two-thirds of New Jersey's school districts, with the balance seeing flat funding and none being cut, administration officials said.

A small fraction of that total, Christie's $2 million “Opportunity Scholarship Grants” program is a far lighter version of the school voucher proposal he backed in 2010, a program that would use corporate tax credits to provide close to $1 billion in vouchers for up to 40,000 students over five years. Almost 20 years in the making, that bill went through many iterations and got close to floor votes before ultimately stalling.

Just how far will today's $2 million go? It's enough to award $10,000 vouchers to 200 low-income students in the lowest-performing schools in the state, giving them the opportunity to attend a public or private school outside their district.

“These grants will show that choice can work, even -- indeed, especially -- in some of our most underperforming school districts,” Christie said. “I have been fighting for three years to end the abandonment of these children and their families. Today, that fight continues.”

A Round of Applause

Supporters of the proposed Opportunity Scholarship Act yesterday applauded the governor for staying the course one more time.

“It’s a start, it’s a very important start,” said state Sen. Thomas Kean Jr. (R-Union), prime sponsor of the OSA bill in the senate. “It adds some real value to the effort we have been making.”

And even some Democratic leaders, including Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex), did not dismiss vouchers out of hand.

“He tagged on a word that I liked very much, a pilot,” she said in an interview. “I think with a pilot, you find out how it works, what kinds of schools parents choose. I’m interesting in hearing what he has to offer.”

Oliver said one question she had was whether the program would need a separate legislative bill, and whether that would be ready in time for the program to start in the fall.

“The challenge to him is if he wants to see it operationalized in the fall of 2013, we have to see the details of the proposal he is putting on the table,” she said.

Some unexpected dissent came from former backers, who said the proposed program was so small as to be almost insignificant. State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), maybe the most outspoken sponsor of the original bill, called it the “teeny, teeny, teeny OSA.”

“Urban education needs a huge facelift, but OSA did not have enough support,” Lesniak said before the budget address. “But this is too small a model to have an impact. I imagine it will get support, only because it is so minimal in nature.”

State Assemblyman Louis Greenwald (D-Camden), the Assembly majority leader, also decried the size of the proposal. He had been among those supporting a small pilot, but not this small, he said.

“I have always said this should be a pilot,” Greenwald said. “But I think he has gone too far the other way. Two million dollars, what does it get you?”

Nonetheless, the proposed pilot will surely face a fight, if only because it opens the door to a bigger program.

State Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex), chairman of the Assembly’s education committee, said he would continue to oppose it, no matter what size it is.

“My gut says it won’t pass,” he predicted. “I think people will recognize it for what it is, a foot in the water [for vouchers].”

The New Jersey Education Association, the teachers union, has largely led the charge against vouchers for the past two decades, and it didn’t sound like it was giving up now.

“There is no indication you can do this through the budget process, and given the legislature has shown no interest in this issue, we don’t think it will happen now,” said Steve Wollmer, the NJEA communications director.

“It’s the same thing in a different package,” he said. “Nothing has changed, it’s still bad policy.”

The Budget Beyond Vouchers

School vouchers were just on issue in yesterday's budget, with many districts waiting anxiously to see what -- if any -- new aid they will get under the governor’s proposal.

The district-by-district breakdown will not come out until Thursday, but officials said 378 districts would get at least some additional money. With none seeing cuts, that means flat funding for about 200 districts.

Exactly which districts get what will determine the next line of debate, since the administration has been adjusting the School Funding Reform Act to at least reduce some of the extra aid for the districts with the highest concentrations of at-risk kids.

The Democrat-led Legislature has twice rejected those changes in the formula, most recently in a joint resolution demanding revisions, but the administration is apparently calling its bluff.

When asked specifically about the administration’s response to that legislative opposition, state Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff said simply: “We still feel that [the changes] make fiscal and educational sense . . . We’ll see how it goes.”

Democratic leaders said they will need to review the district breakdowns before determining how far they will take that fight.

“We’ll see where it falls,” said state Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson), chairman of the Assembly budget committee. “This is obviously a big issue for us, because I thought we sent a loud and clear message [about changes to the SFRA], but we’ll have to see.”

Advocates, however, said that flat-funding and even a small increase for poor districts is the equivalent of cuts.

“The very minimal increase for some districts, and flat funding for many others, means another year of cuts in programs, staff and services that are needed by our students,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, the advocacy group that has led the Abbott v. Burke litigation.

“The governor's aid proposal does almost nothing to meet the needs of students in hundreds of underfunded schools throughout the state,” he said.

There will likely be some other points of discussion in the coming months of budget deliberations:

The budget will include a new Education Innovation Fund, with the first installment of $5 million in a grant program that Christie last year said could eventually total $50 million. Details to come, but Christie said it would be targeted to expanded use of technology in schools.

“Technology has transformed every other industry in America, to all of our great benefit. Let’s make sure it transforms education as well, for the better,” he said.

Christie has also proposed adding state funds for new charter schools, as well as the expansion of interdistrict school choice, which is expected to have 6,000 participants next fall in 107 districts. That total will go up close to 50 percent, from $33.1 million to $49.1 million.

Funding for extraordinary special education is expected to hold at $162.7 million, while the administration is also seeks to raise some of the thresholds for when it starts paying.

 

Newsday-Associated Press - Christie's $32.9B NJ budget expands Medicaid   New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie proposed a $32.9 billion budget Tuesday that allows more poor residents to enroll in Medicaid and increases public school aid but defers property tax rebates for three months to cover a projected budget shortfall…”

Updated: February 26, 2013 6:31 PM
By The Associated Press ANGELA DELLI SANTI (Associated Press)

TRENTON, N.J. - (AP) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie proposed a $32.9 billion budget Tuesday that allows more poor residents to enroll in Medicaid and increases public school aid but defers property tax rebates for three months to cover a projected budget shortfall.

Christie, a possible Republican presidential contender in 2016 who is seeking a second term as governor in November, touted the budget as a blueprint that seeks fiscal stability without forgetting about the state's most vulnerable residents. The Democratic-led Legislature must approve the plan.

"We are meeting the needs of our people in this budget, we are doing it by spending less than the state spent in fiscal year 2008," he said in an afternoon budget address at the Statehouse.

The governor claimed victory for revamping rules that strip teachers of lifetime tenure and for keeping property tax increases to 1.4 percent this year, but he presented no big initiative or surprises in his election-year budget.

Afterward, Democrats said they liked some -- but not all -- of what they heard from the governor.

"It was nice that we all gathered in the chamber," Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver said, "but I want (to hear) some meat."

Christie's budget proposal comes as the state rebounds from Superstorm Sandy, the worst natural disaster in state history. It counts on nearly 5 percent revenue growth, down from more than 7 percent in the current budget, which Treasurer Andrew Eristoff acknowledged Tuesday that the state is unlikely to meet.

The governor is banking on federal Sandy relief funding to stimulate the state's still-sluggish economy and help coastal communities rebuild. Twenty-five municipalities lost at least 5 percent of their tax base after Sandy because of destroyed homes and closed businesses.

The first $1.8 billion in relief money is due in April but New Jersey could see $100 million less than expected unless there's a deal in Washington to eliminate federal cuts set to take effect Friday.

Christie proposed adding $40 million to the current-year budget to cover Sandy-related expenses not reimbursed by the federal government.

"This will ensure that we can move ahead with maximum speed, and that those things that fall through the cracks will not bankrupt families, businesses and local governments," Christie said.

Christie's budget abandons the 10 percent tax break he proposed last year that the Democratic-led Legislature refused to go along with. Christie and all 120 members of the Legislature face re-election in November.

His likely challenger, Sen. Barbara Buono, said afterward that Christie's priorities "are wrong for New Jersey." She said the budget does not address the state's persistently high unemployment rate, which was 9.6 percent in December, more than a full percentage point above the federal rate.

The proposed budget adds nearly $100 million to public education and allocates $2 million for a project to allow 200 low-income students in failing public schools scholarships to attend school elsewhere. A similar proposal has stalled in the Legislature, in part because it permits the taxpayer-funded scholarships to be applied to private and parochial school tuition.

The budget also expands the Medicaid rolls by 104,000 by allowing the federal government to take over costs, Christie said.

While making it clear he's no fan of the Affordable Care Act, Christie said he decided to accept federal funding.

"Refusing these federal dollars does not mean that they won't be spent. It just means that they will be used to expand health care access in New York, Connecticut, Ohio or somewhere else," Christie said.

Including New Jersey, 22 states and the District of Columbia have signed on to the expansion and 13 states have rejected it so far.

One casualty of the budget proposal is homeowner tax rebates. Senior, disabled and low-income homeowners expecting rebate credits in May would instead see them in August. The deferral would allow the state to cover a projected $407 million shortfall in the budget that expires in June. New Jersey's constitution doesn't allow deficit spending.

State residents already pay the highest property taxes in the country, averaging $7,870 per household.

The budget also makes a $1.6 billion payment to the public employee pension system, a commitment the administration made when landmark pension and health benefits changes were enacted two years ago.

___

Associated Press reporters Geoff Mulvihill and Rema Rahman contributed to this report.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

 


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160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
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