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Vetoes Get Attention But Some Education Spending Avoids Budget Ax

More than $14M in new expenditures includes boost in funding for adult high schools, career programs and vo-tech schools

NEW Prieto
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson)

Gov. Chris Christie garnered headlines when he vetoed various line items in the Democrats’ proposed state budget, but almost as notable were some of the proposals he left in the final spending plan.

While Christie vetoed more than $20 million in new spending, approved were three notable education-related expenditures pushed by individual Democratic lawmakers:

  • $7 million for career and vocational schools, including $4 million that will be restored to adult high schools that had seen their budgets decimated in the last four years;

  • $5.2 million for state aid to nonpublic schools, specifically for nursing services, technology and school security; and

  • $2 million to set up two grant programs to help schools address professional development and technology needs.

Approval of those spending items got little notice amid the rush of Christie’s line-item vetoes, amounting to $1.6 billion in all, on his way to finalizing the state budget for fiscal 2016.

But the actions were certainly was noticed by advocates and longtime backers of the bills.

“Career and technical education is an educational and economic strategy that can help to ensure our state’s continued growth and competitiveness,” said Judy Savage, executive director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools.

“We are very grateful to the leadership of the Assembly and Senate for making these programs a priority,” she continued, “and to the Governor for approving this funding as part of the state budget.”

The spending was part of a package of bills shepherded by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) to help the vo-tech sector, with most of his proposals ultimately passing.

In addition to the $4 million for adult schools, the remaining $3 million would go toward continuing a grant program to encourage vo-tech partnerships with local high schools, higher education institutions and New Jersey employers. Six such partnerships were funded under last year’s budget.

Prieto said last week, before the governor’s decision, that he was optimistic about ultimately winning Christie’s approval

“I think he gets it, and we’ve had good conversations,” Prieto said. “This package of bills spurs a dialogue that the United States has not been having with technical and vocational education.

“Everybody is not built for college,” Prieto added, “and I think things like this make a big difference.”

The only change that Christie did make in the package was the elimination of a line in the Democrats’ budget language that would have called for a study of long-term budget needs for these schools.

Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic),
Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic)

Christie also kept in the budget three different funding line-items for nonpublic schools, a priority for state Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic).

Schaer, as chairman of the Assembly’s budget committee, has long complained that private and parochial schools have been shortchanged in certain non-instructional funding streams available to public schools, especially for security funding.

“It is clear and obvious in terms of what is going on in today’s world with acts of terrorism being directed at schools and particular religious schools, whatever that religion may be,” he said last week.

“No matter whether one send their children to private school, public school, charter schools, religious schools, these are all New Jersey children, and they deserve to be safe,” Schaer continued.

The third pot of money approved by the governor was an additional $2 million in grants for local districts, $1 million for teacher training, and $1 million for technology needs related to the state’s new online PARCC testing.

That funding continues grant programs supported by state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), who chairs the Senate’s education committee.

Ruiz said last week that while the dollar amounts are not big, they reinforce the state’s support for districts struggling to fund important programs.

The technology costs for PARCC have been a main complaint about the new testing, with some individual districts saying they are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for needed technology.

“It’s not much,” Ruiz said of the total, “but it’s at least a commitment by the Legislature that we need to do better.”

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