Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Few S. Jersey schools to get aid increase

Two-thirds of South Jersey districts will get no increase in state education aid next year, according to district-by-district aid figures released yesterday.

Two-thirds of South Jersey districts will get no increase in state education aid next year, according to district-by-district aid figures released yesterday.

The rest will receive modest increases, with the highest at 5 percent.

The projected district aid figures were made public the day after Gov. Corzine released his new budget, in which education was one of the few areas not hit by budget cuts.

"This budget clearly protects the education of our children," Education Commissioner Lucille Davy said.

Of approximately $300 million in additional school aid, Davy said about $150 million would go toward kindergarten-through-12th-grade education; about $78 million would be for special education; and about $52 million would go to support existing preschools.

In addition, Davy said, $25 million would go to districts that are ready to create preschool programs. They include school systems that serve large numbers of poor children but that are not so-called former Abbott districts. That aid is in addition to regular state aid.

Davy called the preschool aid an incentive. The money is unlikely to cover the full cost of starting a program. She said districts would be urged to use some of the additional aid they will get from the federal stimulus plan.

As part of the overall stimulus package, states are due to receive money to help stabilize school districts during the economic downturn. New Jersey is due about $1.3 billion, a little over $1 billion of which would be applied to the new budget, officials said.

Statewide, just more than 28 percent of districts received some aid increase. Only eight got increases of more than 5 percent.

That's a far cry from last year, when, under a new funding formula Corzine championed, all districts received at least 2 percent increases, and some got hikes as high as 20 percent.

The funding formula, now in its second year, seeks to redistribute aid to districts with low-income children that were not among the 31 poor, largely urban districts that since the 1990s received a larger share of state aid because of a series of court rulings stemming from the Abbott v. Burke case.

The Education Law Center, an advocate of those urban districts, is challenging the new formula in state Supreme Court.

The case was one factor in this year's aid levels, officials said. They did not want to cut funding while defending the formula in court, they said.

Last year, local former Abbott districts - Camden, Pemberton, Burlington City and Gloucester City - all received the minimum 2 percent aid increases. According to the allocations announced yesterday, those four districts will receive no aid increase next school year.

Mount Laurel also faces flat state funding, but things could have been worse, a district spokeswoman said.

"We were happy that it wasn't cut," said Marie Reynolds, director of communications. "We're grateful for the aid that we received."

Frank Belluscio, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, applauded Corzine for keeping education a priority. But he also said lots of districts, especially those with flat funding, would have tough decisions to make in coming months.

"Fixed costs do increase; state aid is part of your revenue, and districts are very limited in how much they can increase property taxes," Belluscio said.