Quote of the DayMarch 15, 2009
Now if School Districts Could Catch Up with Local Media…March 16, 2009
Was the headline writer for the New York Times having some fun when he titled John Mooney’s piece on Sunday, “Dozens of Schools to Benefit from Funds in Corzine’s Budget?” Was he or she being obtuse? Pandering to Corzine? In need of remedial math courses? We’ll never know but, for the record, even if we generously interpret “dozens” as, say, 5 dozen, that’s still less than 10% of the 616 school districts in New Jersey who “benefit” from Corzine’s budget.
Read a little closer and Mooney inserts a few gentle tweaks. He quotes from Corzine’s Budget Address:
In New Jersey, we recognize the importance of our children, they are our bright hope for the future. To that purpose, in this budget, we have increased, rather than cut, classroom funding for K-12 education.
But then notes,
Yet that still leaves about 400 districts that will see no increases at all, including those in Cape May and Sussex Counties and all but one district in Hunterdon.
There’s no question that most districts were relieved that Corzine’s budget was free of the rumored large cuts in state aid to schools. However, the figures released to individual districts on Wednesday left more questions than answers. For example, all districts rely on a line item called “Extraordinary Aid,” which helps allay costs for some special education students who require upwards of $40,000 per year in tuition payments. Yet a close look at the numbers reveal that for some districts that aid is absent this year. And the much-vaunted full-day preschool money? Everyone’s scratching their heads, because the math doesn’t work.
With New Jersey set to receive at least $1 billion in federal stimulus funds for education, Mr. Corzine was able to avert overall cuts in school aid, and he proposed spending $25 million of that money to start the state’s planned preschool expansion into more than 80 working- and middle-class districts, where 3- and 4-year-olds will be entitled to full-day programs.
Remember that Corzine’s intention was to provide free preschool for poor students who don’t live in Abbott districts (where young kids already get free preschool). Why is this politically so important? Because the DOE’s current court battle to overturn the Abbott decisions in favor of the School Finance Reform Act is predicated on the assumption that all poor kids, regardless of home district, will be afforded services like preschools. The DOE even pinned a number on it over the summer: $12,000 per child. But the aid will be far less — $6,000 per kid instead of $12,000 – and will service fewer children.
It’ll be a tough case to argue that the State can provide equity through SFRA if non-Abbott poor kids get only half their share.
What are districts supposed to do? Provide half-day preschool? Hold a lottery for spots? No one seems to know. So, while “dozens” of districts may be satisfied and relieved, the majority of districts are begging for direction from the DOE.