Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Analyses and Reactions to Christie's Proposed Education Budget

Yesterday afternoon Gov. Christie proposed his 2017 budget of $34.8 billion. (Here's the budget and here's a transcript of the speech.)  $9.1 billion is earmarked for public schools, an increase of 1%, or $93 million. Here's some coverage and reactions from analysts and stakeholders.

First, Gov. Christie's remarks on pre-K-12 public education funding:
I’m proposing nearly $100 million in additional K-12 school aid for New Jersey school districts, taking our total investment to more than $9 billion. 
Under this plan, every single school district will have increased funding. 
We’re going to continue investing in our incredibly successful charter schools system.
The number of students attending charter schools has nearly doubled during the course of my administration, and we’ve seen charter schools having a huge impact in allowing students to achieve their full potential and turn around education results for at risk communities. 
For fiscal year 2017, funding will be provided to support Charter School Aid to ensure per student funding for charter schools remains steady. 
Up to six new charter schools will open in the next fiscal year, supporting an additional 1,100 students. 
We’re going to continue working to expand charter school opportunities for families in failing school districts. 
And as I said before you last month, at my direction the Department of Education has begun to take steps to aggressively slash regulation for New Jersey charter schools and give them the tools they need to serve even more students in even greater ways.
Not in the speech but in the Budget Summary:
The fiscal 2017 budget also includes $1 million to support a pilot demonstration of the Opportunity Scholarship Act program. This funding will provide scholarships to allow certain students in chronically failing schools to attend another public or nonpublic school within New Jersey. Through this program, children from families of limited means will have greater educational opportunities and more school choice. 
John Reitmeyer at NJ Spotlight:
Though the tone of Gov. Chris Christie’s budget message yesterday may have been combative at times, the substance of his proposed $34.8 billion spending plan lines up well with some of the biggest priorities for Democratic legislative leaders. And it also left some room for bipartisan cooperation going forward... 
A full 38 percent of the overall projected spending in the new budget will go to education aid, for a total of $13.3 billion. 
But formula aid that goes directly to K-12 districts remains essentially flat at $7.9 billion. And the state will continue to underfund the current school-aid law by about $1 billion, according to the New Jersey Education Association.
John Mooney at NJ Spotlight:
The bottom line is that most schools would see virtually no change in their state aid under Christie’s plan, continuing the pattern of the last six years. 
While the governor trumpeted aid increases for every district, the overall state aid to schools would increase all of 1 percent – or about $94.3 million in a $9.1 billion allocation. 
School leaders and advocates agreed yesterday that it was far better than an aid cut for districts that feared possible reductions as the state grapples with a host of fiscal challenges. 
For a few districts, there may be some additional relief this year. The budget includes a couple of new line items, including a $25 million fund for districts being hit especially hard by the growth of charter schools and an additional $32 million for districts facing steep drops in taxable properties.
Tom Moran at the Star-Ledger:
If you look at the budget plan Christie presented, it was a modest offering with no poison pills. It leaves plenty of room to make bipartisan deals over the next several months.
The speech was combative; the budget itself is not. 
So my guess is that Christie was trying to demonize Democrats and the unions to whip up the public, and to improve his bargaining position.
The budget he outlines adds $555 million to the pension contribution, bringing it up to $1.86 billion in 2017. That amounts to 40 percent of the amount actuaries say should be contributed – far less than the 85 percent envisioned by 2010 and 2011 reform laws, which would have amounted to almost $4 billion, but seemingly enough to satisfy most Democratic lawmakers.
Adds $94 million in state aid to schools, or roughly 1 percent. All districts would see an increase in aid, at least equal to $10 per pupil, through a new category of aid intended to help teachers and administrators analyze and use the data they collect. An additional $36.5 million goes into the formula for "increases that the most underfunded districts will realize."
Includes $26 million in school aid that would be shared by districts struggling with the impact of charter schools, plus $32 million that would go to districts in cities such as Atlantic City where commercial ratables have been slashed.
Pres. Wendell Steinhauer in an NJEA press release:
Today, Gov. Christie returned to his tired, knee-jerk themes with predictable attacks on public employees and attempts to divide working New Jerseyans.
“Even with a bump-up in state aid, local school boards are facing an increasingly difficult situation in meeting their communities’ educational needs. Therefore, over the next year, NJSBA will continue to seek legislation, such as an adjustment to the 2 percent tax levy cap for growing state- and federally required special education costs, and removing limits that restrict expenditures on the implementation of the state’s extensive teacher evaluation process, which is critical to New Jersey’s tenure reform act.
Tomorrow the State will release district-by-district proposed aid allocations.

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