The New Jersey School Boards Association has provided to legislators a statement that summarizes the Association’s position on the state budget that has been proposed for 2016-2017. The full text of the statement is available here.

In the statement, NJSBA notes that it is grateful that no district will experience a reduction in formula aid in the proposed budget, but notes that the increase in direct aid is little more than 1 percent over last year’s aid totals.

The proposed $94.3 million increase includes two large sums: “Host District Support Aid” ($25.9 million) and “Commercial Valuation Stabilization Aid” ($32 million).  NJSBA has asked for clarification on whether these two are new programs or one-time appropriations.

Anti-Bullying Funding

NJSBA also raised concerns about the underfunding of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, noting that the Bullying Prevention Fund has not been funded since fiscal year 2014, and that in that year, district requests to the fund totaled approximately $9 million. “We ask the state to strongly consider reinstating the fund,” said the NJSBA statement.

Charter School Funding

Last year’s budget required public school districts to pay for their per-pupil enrollment at a charter school based on either 2013-2014 or 2016-2017 data, whichever is higher. The result of this provision has been that many districts were paying for students who are no longer enrolled in a charter school. Last year, according to OLS, 83 districts wound up having their payments to charter schools increased unnecessarily by $37.5 million. The 2016-2017 budget proposal appears to end this practice.

The Association also expressed the need for expanded charter funding to come directly from the state, rather than from the local district. “Although the NJSBA supports efforts to hold charter schools harmless and address fluctuations in their enrollment, any effort to do so should be funded directly from the state to the charter school. The current construct unnecessarily pits traditional schools against charter schools,” the statement noted.

School Building Aid

The proposed fiscal year  2017 budget also contains language provisions further limiting districts’ School Construction Debt Service Aid and School Building Aid to 85 percent of the districts’ approved October 16, 2015 application amounts. An additional language item also limits districts’ School Building Aid to the aid percentage calculated for the 2001-2002 school year.

The NJSBA expressed satisfaction that the School Development Authority (SDA) assessment on districts is held to FY2014 levels, but noted that its support of this provision is tempered by its opposition to the very existence of the SDA assessment.

“We believe the Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act of 2000 only gave the state authority to charge for administrative and organizational costs. The SDA assessment does not qualify as either administrative or organizational. Beyond that, it is unfair for districts to be assessed a share of the state’s principal and interest costs—fees that were never discussed when the construction grant program was initiated. The fees were not established until FY2011—a decade after the grants were first awarded,” the Association stated.

Opportunity Scholarships

NJSBA expressed an objection to the diversion of state resources away from public schools to non-public schools that is seen in the $1 million in the proposed budget that is allotted to an “Opportunity Scholarship Demonstration Program.”  “Though only $1 million, these private school vouchers are close to half of the total proposed increase for all direct aid to public school districts,” the statement details, “These resources would be better served supporting those districts, not private schools.”