Gov. Phil Murphy announced Jan. 26 a $350 million pot of money will soon be available for high-priority school construction projects throughout the Garden State.
The funding comes from Senate Bill 2944, which was signed during the budget process last summer and allocated $5.2 billion in surplus money for the newly created New Jersey Debt Defeasance and Prevention Fund. The legislation calls for $350 million of that tranche to be appropriated for school facilities projects, emergent needs and capital maintenance in Regular Operating Districts (ROD).
Beginning Jan. 30, according to a statement from Murphy’s office, more than 550 RODs will be eligible to apply for grants. School districts will be eligible to receive at least 40% of eligible project costs.
“From day one, my administration has made it a priority to support and improve our public school system – and helping our schools implement critical facility projects is an important component of those efforts,” said Murphy. “This funding demonstrates our commitment to strengthening our schools and cementing our legacy as a state that is dedicated providing every student with a high-quality learning environment.”
The state says the funds may be used to address health and safety needs, such as improving air quality, essential upgrades or repairs, or other similar projects.
The proposed projects will be prioritized in the following order:
“We created this fund with the specific intention of using federal and state resources to reduce and avoid state debt, and to make strategic investments in our future,” said Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-36th District, and chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, who led the effort to create the fund. “The Debt Defeasance Fund provides a financial cushion that protects taxpayers as well resources for investments in primary needs, including school construction, repairs and upgrades. Debt reduction and sustainable investments are fiscally-responsible means to meet the needs of our residents in more affordable ways.”
Assemblyman Roy Freiman, D-16th District, the primary sponsor of the bill in the Assembly, said these investments make it possible to fund school projects in communities across the state.
“Thanks to the New Jersey Debt Defeasance and Prevention Fund, our schools will have access to grants needed to make critical building repairs without borrowing money and accumulating interest that will cost taxpayers,” said Freiman.
The application review will be overseen by the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE). Once the DOE approves a project, it will be transmitted to the New Jersey Schools Development Authority (SDA) to offer a grant to the district. The funds will be dispersed by the SDA following that approval process.
“This funding is designed to address the highest priority projects so we can work toward the goal of ensuring our school facilities are of the same high quality as in the instruction that is being provided within those school walls,” said acting Commissioner of Education Angelica Allen-McMillan.
“This grant funding will allow hundreds of Regular Operating Districts throughout the state to make critical school infrastructure upgrades, further supporting quality learning environments that will positively impact student learning,” said Manuel Da Silva, CEO, New Jersey Schools Development Authority. “Through our continued partnership with the DOE, SDA will support the advancement of school construction projects that improve and extend the lifecycle of the state’s school facilities.”
The application window will be open until May 1, 2023, with the DOE determining eligibility within 90 days.