Home Berlin Letters & Opinions Proposed funding cuts raise alarm in local and state school districts

Proposed funding cuts raise alarm in local and state school districts

A group of 60 Cherry Hill students, parents and staff headed to Trenton last month to advocate for fair funding in light of a projected $6.9-million decrease in the district’s state aid between the current school year and the next. 

But the Cherry Hill district is not the only one potentially losing state money: There are more than 100 school systems across the state expected to see decreased funding under Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed spending plan, according to the New Jersey Department of Education, including Voorhees, Lenape Regional, Clearview Regional and Palmyra.

The cuts would come on top of teacher shortages, program reductions and the lingering challenges of COVID, according to NJ Spotlight News. 

When he unveiled his budget proposal early last month in Somerset County’s Montgomery Township, Murphy touted a $1-million increase in funding for that district that amounted to a 15-percent increase in aid, Spotlight reported.

“My administration remains committed to providing students throughout our state with the world-class education they deserve,” he said at the time. 

Overall, New Jersey’s public school districts will see more than $900 million more in state aid for the 2024-’25 school year under the current formula for allocating funds. That amounts to more than $11 billion total, an increase of 8.4%, according to northjersey.com.

Under the governor’s formula, 423 school districts will see an increase in aid and 15 will get the same amount they did for the current school year. But 140 districts will be on the losing end of the deal.

“We are shocked that the state – having increased our aid consistently during the last four years after decades of staggering and harmful underfunding – has cut our aid to less than what we received in 2022-2023,” Cherry Hill Superintendent Kwame Morton told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Some in the state’s education community say the imbalance in school aid is the result of New Jersey still hewing to a funding formula conceived in 2008 – known as S-2 – that hasn’t kept pace with current school needs. They have suggested raising the cap on property-tax increases and revising how special education funding is calculated, among other ideas.

The funding issue was brought to the fore on March 14 in testimony before a meeting of the state Senate and Assembly’s education committees, according to the New Jersey School Boards Association. Legislators and educators argued that the aid formula needs to be modernized and that areas like special education, mental health and security – among others – cost more to fund than they did 16 years ago. 

Some of the speakers at the session called for the state to move away from its current census-based method for estimating the number of special ed students, which bases funding on an average percent of such students, not the exact number in each district, according to Spotlight News. 

That means some districts get more money than they need, while others don’t get enough, noted Julie Borst, executive director of the Save Our Schools advocacy group. She suggested a tiered system with different weights for different disabilities. 

Other ideas were floated at the meeting to update the funding formula, but until that happens, at least one superintendent – Scott Feder of South Brunswick – asked that he and other school chiefs be part of further discussion.

“Please,” he urged, “include the people on the ground.”

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