S.O.S.-member districts send joint letter to the state on school funding

The letter circulated on Twitter where many area school districts requested the state to not alter funding further during the pandemic.

The following letter was published on Twitter:

We write on behalf of New Jersey’s 500,000 public school students in more than 100 school districts that comprise the Support Our Students (SOS) coalition. Every district in SOS, the children we educate, and the families and communities we serve have been,  and will continue, to be negatively impacted by the S2 funding formula. 

We appreciate the incredible economic strife facing the state and wish to offer a perspective from the SOS districts that were already facing financial crisis before the pandemic hit. 

On May 9, many SOS member districts joined Sen. Pres. Stephen Sweeney’s address to NJSBA. We were pleased with the direction the senator would like to take for all of New Jersey’s public schools. Specifically, his work in healthcare and finance is critical to preserve our state’s stellar education system. As was clearly identified, these two matters remain linked and must be considered in looking at school funding today and in the future. Senate President also mentioned hard-hit S2 districts and shared an understanding of the impact they could face if further cuts are applied to already reduced budgets. 

Sen. Sweeney recognized the challenges schools face with their fiscal year budgeting due to the state’s three-month extension of the fiscal year. Specifically, districts were mandated to adopt a budget in May using state aid figures that will most likely change after pandemic revenue projections become clearer. The financial impact of the pandemic on education is a new stressor on our districts that have already seen state aid reductions for the ’20-’21 school year. 

He mentioned the possibility of a “flat” approach to state funding. The question in regard to “flat” is in the definition.

Would “flat” refer to existing ’19-’20 funding or the projected funding from February? The answer to that question is key and will have a major impact on the financial future for New Jersey’s schools. In the event of an overall state funding decrease, how will funds be distributed? 

It’s critical that the reductions applied through the S2 funding formula are factored into the process. If not, districts that already had funding scaled back through S2 will be crushed by additional cuts. Sweeping further reductions would inflict deep and long-term damage to many districts, eventually impeding these districts in their ability to provide the thorough and efficient education that is the right of every child in New Jersey. For example, additional funding cuts would immediately affect some of our most fragile children and families who already might have suffered education losses during remote learning, causing achievement gaps to grow exponentially.

In the event that state funding is decreased across the board, it will negatively impact 1.4 million students educated in New Jersey’s public schools. The 2020-2021 school year budget process that began in December 2019, based on pre-pandemic forecasts of state funding, is irrelevant as we face this crisis together. Every district is dealing with this reality. 

New Jersey’s public schools are integral to the fabric of every community, whether rural, urban, shore or suburban. Every district is approaching the crisis with great care and caution. We continue to make those hard decisions due to the unknown financial conditions we are all facing. We implore you to take into account the realities for those districts that were already struggling pre-pandemic and provide hope for a future, post-pandemic. Your support and guidance will be much appreciated by the children, families and communities that together New Jersey’s educators and legislators are committed to serve.