The state Senate quickly and unanimously advanced a bill (S3732) March 20 to backfill a portion of the expected funding reductions for a number of schools around the state in the next budget under the state’s school funding formula.
The measure appropriates nearly $103 million to bridge that gap.
A main criticism from Republicans about Gov. Phil Murphy’s recently introduced budget plan was the reduction many school districts faced under the S-2 funding formula, especially in suburban and rural areas, as school funding otherwise increased, and the state sits on a massive surplus.
Murphy’s $53.1 billion budget plan includes a record $10.75 billion in direct state formula aid to K-12 schools, an increase of $832 million over the FY 2023 budget. And although more than 400 districts would see increased funding, more than 150 others would see a cut. These affected local school districts were, of course, irate about those potential cuts.
And the issue also created another challenge for potentially vulnerable Democrats in an election year.
Those factors set the stage for a hurried effort to address the issue as budget season kicks into gear. On Friday, the governor announced the bill along with Sen. Vin Gopal, D-11th District, Sen. Andrew Zwicker, D-16th District, and Assemblyman Roy Freiman, D-16th District.
“As we work towards ensuring equitable access to the high-quality education every student deserves, this supplemental funding will support districts in adjusting to changes in aid under our state’s school funding formula,” Murphy said on Friday. “I thank our legislative partners for their collaboration in reaching this agreement on behalf of educators, students and their communities in the upcoming school year.”
The bill was quickly posted and put up for a vote during Monday’s Senate session, passing 36-0.
Under the bill, affected school districts can request up to 66% of the difference between the amount they received in the 2022-2023 school year and the amount of aid currently proposed for the 2023-2024 school year. The districts will need to submit a written plan to the state Commissioner of Education explaining how the district will allocate these funds and how it intends to fund operations in future school years in which the district does not receive supplemental funding.
“As we continue to navigate the impact of our school funding structure, and in light of unique circumstances, the over $100 million in supplemental funding will provide an additional layer of stability this year,” said Angelica Allen-McMillan, acting commissioner of education, on Friday.
Following the announcement of the fast-tracked legislation on Friday, Senate Republicans said they do not think any school district should face funding cuts when the state has such a massive budget surplus.
“We support the partial restoration of funding that has been proposed but remain concerned that it is a one-year solution to a long-term problem,” said Senate Republican Leader Steve Oroho, R-24th District, in a statement Friday. “Unless we change the school funding formula permanently, school districts will lose the temporarily restored money next year and face even deeper cuts in state aid. We need a school funding solution that looks further than Election Day this year.”
Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-13th District, offered an amendment that would restore funding to what schools received last year. O’Scanlon said that while he supported the measure and planned to vote for it, it was policy malfeasance that the school funding formula has not been solved yet.
“There is absolutely no reason with us swimming in money that we don’t know what we’re going to do with to not have solved this problem,” said O’Scanlon. “When you look at the needs of our kids and a budget so flush with resources, cutting funding to our schools doesn’t make any sense. While I support this bill, I think we need to be honest. Restoring two-thirds of the funding that Governor Murphy proposed cutting from our children’s schools isn’t good enough. We need to restore 100%.”
The amendment was voted down along party lines.
In the coming weeks, the Assembly is expected to take up and pass the bill, sending it to Murphy. The bill would take effect immediately but remain inoperative until the FY 2024 budget is passed this summer.o