Over 50 people gathered today in the conference center of University Hall at Montclair State University for the first public hearing of the New Jersey State Senate Budget Committee.
Many of the speakers, given four minutes each for their testimony, were advocating for increased funding for public education at Tuesday’s meeting.
“The state wants to punish these kids, another generation of kids, by giving the district less money to do more with. How do we do that with increasing enrollment and decreased funding? It seems to me we’re dooming these kids. Please reject the budget,” said Rosie Grant, program director of the Paterson Education Fund. “I am not asking for special consideration […], I am simply asking you to fund the school funding reform act, it’s the law. You, the Legislature of New Jersey passed it.”
The hearing began at 9 a.m. and adjourned at 3:15 p.m. The Senate Budget and Appropriations committee includes state Senators Chair Paul Sarlo (D), Vice-Chair Brain Stack (D), Jennifer Beck (R), Anthony Bucco (R), Sandra Cunningham (D), Linda Greenstein (D), Kevin O’Toole (R), Steven Oroho (R), Joseph Pennacchio (R), Nellie Pou (D), M. Teresa Ruiz (D), Jeff Van Drew (D) and Loretta Weinberg (D). Committee members were in and out during the day, but five to six senators were present throughout the day to listen to the testimony.
Those speaking included concerned individuals as well as members of advocacy groups. Speakers were calm and professional and the hearing was not combative. The senators asked questions after a few presentations, but did not make extensive comment.
While there is an overall increase in aid for public education from last year, many of the speakers say they worry that the state is still underfunding public education. “The governor’s proposal leaves all districts far below the levels that have been determined adequate,” said Sharon Krengel, policy & outreach coordinator of the Education Law Center.
“The governor is proposing radical changes to the SFRA (School Funding Reform Act) formula itself, and he’s trying to accomplish that objective by doing an end run around the legislative process,” said Krengel. It is proposed that funding be based on average daily attendance in districts, as opposed to enrollment. “This would deprive districts of the funding to serve all students,” said Krengel.
Higher education was also addressed, specifically providing more funding to state institutions so tuition can be kept at a reasonable level. “Part of my decision to attend this institution was the affordability. Having muscular dystrophy, my budget is usually reserved for predominantly tuition and health expenses, which can add up despite receiving government aid. With increasing tuition, I along with many of my classmates, especially those who are disabled like myself, fear we may have to choose between my health care costs and furthering my education,” said Stephen Way, a junior at Montclair State University.
There has been an overall increase in funding for public universities, but it is unclear how that will be distributed at this time.
Advocates are calling for a rejection of the budget, and a complete rewriting of the section regarding funding for public education.
The next state Senate Budget Committee public hearing will be held March 21 at Burlington County College and the next Assembly Budget Committee public hearing, focusing on education, higher education and local government, will take place at UMDNJ in Newark on March 19.
The proposed 2013 budget and information on registering to testify at a hearing can be found at http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/.