Testimony on school funding continues to dominate budget hearings

Tiasha Gora works with people with autism. She’s also a mother of three.

“The state said they don’t have the money for her, and she’s blind. She needs someone to be there with her,” said Gora, who works as a direct support professional at Eden Autism Services. “If they start you off at $10 or $10.50, it’s hard to raise kids. And I’m a passion, I love what I do and I love the guys I work for.”

Over 100 people like Gora testified at Monday’s Assembly Budget Committee, asking for changes to the roughly $37 billion budget Gov. Phil Murphy proposed in March. Some said they were disappointed in the new administration.

“What I find disturbing is we have a governor who talks about climate change and sea level rise and re-opening the Office of Climate Change, but it’s not in the budget,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club.

The majority of the people in the packed room were there for one main fight – school funding. The School Funding Reform Act of 2008, or SFRA, created a formula on how to allocate state aid to districts. The state has not been fully funding it for years, leaving many districts severely underfunded.

“Put simply, the preliminary aid numbers released by Gov. Murphy’s administration are an insult,” said Chesterfield resident Andrea Katz.

One mom told the room it’s a matter of security for her daughter’s elementary school in Chesterfield.

“For the better part of a decade, because we’ve been funded at approximately 10 percent of what we are entitled and uncapped funding under the SFRA, our children in Chesterfield are decidedly less safe than children in overfunded districts,” said Chesterfield resident Amy Jablonski.

“I cannot join a young runners club where I live. I have to drive with my mom to a school that is 30 minutes away, three times a week because our track is broken and we don’t have the money to fix it,” said Jackson Cavallaro, who a fourth grader at Charles G. Harker School in Woolwich Township.

“I am worried that some of our teachers will have to leave because we don’t have enough money to pay them. To help I’m going to have a lemonade stand with all my friends,” said Charlie Katz, a third grader at Chesterfield Elementary School.

“What is presented in this budget is not going to be that way when we finish. It can’t be that way when we finish,” said Assembly Appropriations Chair, John Burzichelli.

That’s something the New Jersey Reentry Corporation hopes for because under the last administration the nonprofit organization received $4 million. Now, they’ve been completely cut from the budget.

“My hope is that on a bipartisan basis, with the support of the speaker, and the Senate president, and the governor that we collectively understand the critical nature of reentry in enabling people to rebuild their lives,” explained Jim McGreevey, chairman of the NJRC and governor of New Jersey from 2002 to 2004.

“Governor, you’re being very generous with your tone. I’m more taken aback by how it was not included because of the track record that your group has developed, which I think is impressive,” said Burzichelli.

The organization helps former inmates once they’ve been released with employment, health services and housing, among other things, giving them a second chance. The deadline to pass a budget is July 1.