Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday presented a fiscal 2020 state budget that would invest another $206 million in state aid to public schools.
On Thursday, the details came out about how that money would be distributed, and not everyone is pleased.
Released without an accompanying explanation in the late afternoon, the proposed district-by-district state aid allotments showed that nearly 370 districts would indeed see at least some increase in aid, more than 100 of them getting hikes in excess of 10 percent.
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But a third of the state’s districts, close to 200 of them, would again see cuts as the Murphy administration followed through on its deal with the Democratic-led Legislature last year to redistribute aid from what the state’s School Funding Reform Act deems as overfunded districts.
And the cuts, like last year’s, are steep for some. Jersey City leads the pack by far, losing $27.2 million in aid. Another 15 districts would lose at least $1 million.
Democrats struck funding deal last year
None of this was wholly unexpected, as the budget agreement last summer called for a seven-year phase-out of so-called “adjustment aid” that was put in place a decade ago to save districts from cuts imposed at that time. That total phase-out was close to $600 million, and this year’s aid allotments would redirect $90 million of the total.
But even if the cuts were expected, that didn’t stop the news from reverberating late in the day, with the numbers initially broken on social media.
Many of the comments — pro and con — were not so much directed to Murphy as to state Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, who spearheaded the agreement last year.
“We couldn’t be more grateful for your strong voice in support of under-aided districts!,” tweeted the Fair Funding Action Committee, a grassroots group from districts that have been underfunded. “Promise made! Promise kept!”
From Rocco Tomazic, the superintendent of Freehold Borough Schools, which also received an increase: “”Freehold Boro +$1.39M in state aid for FY20 …. On pace to 100% full funding by FY25. Promises made, promises kept. Thank you!”
Complaints about the process
But others weren’t so pleased. The superintendent of Freehold Regional High School district, which is losing $3.8 million, tweeted that the state was making the cuts without explaining how the numbers were developed.
“Unbelievable state will not release multipliers so can see how aid determined,” tweeted Charles Sampson, the superintendent. “Public deserves transparency. Formula flawed.”
And the Education Law Center, the advocacy organization that has led the landmark school equity court battles in New Jersey, took notice: “Sad this increase made possible by cutting state aid for children in other districts spending below their constitutional thorough and efficient level.”
The Murphy administration itself didn’t comment on the release beyond pointing to the governor’s announcement on Tuesday. He plans to hold a press conference on Friday in West Orange. The schools there are slated to see a $1.6 million increase in aid, or about 13 percent.