NEWARK, N.J. - About 400 public high school students walked out of classes around the city on Tuesday to protest cuts to the city's education budget.
The Newark Student Union staged a noisy protest outside Rutgers law school, where the Assembly Budget Committee was holding a daylong hearing on Gov. Christie's proposed education budget.
The students are seeking restoration of a $56 million cut to the city's school budget, which they say unfairly targets urban students. The state oversees Newark's education budget because city schools are under state control.
The students also sought to highlight the fact that the governor's $32.9 billion budget again fails to fully fund the state's school-aid formula.
"For the last three years, Gov. Christie has waged a concerted attack on Newark students," organizer Jaysen Bazile said. "He keeps saying that he's given New Jersey schools unprecedented levels of support, but what he doesn't say is that his hand was forced by the Supreme Court after they found his first-year cuts violated our constitutional rights to a thorough and efficient education."
The students, from at least six of the city's public high schools, said the lack of education funding can be seen in nearly every aspect of school life: classrooms with holes in walls, teacher layoffs, aging technology, and cuts to extracurricular activities such as sports and debate club. They said Newark would be entitled to an additional $51 million if the funding formula was honored at 100 percent.
The students staged a similar walkout in 2010, but "nothing changed," said students Thais Marques and Angel Plaz, who were selected to speak at the budget hearing.
Earlier, a court-appointed child advocate also took aim at education underfunding, saying 35,000 children in New Jersey who are eligible for state-funded preschool are not enrolled because the state doesn't follow the funding formula.
Cynthia Rice, of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, said the school-funding formula calls for eligible 3- and 4-year-olds to attend preschools. Fully funding the initiative would cost about $300 million.
Five faculty and staff representatives at Rutgers-Newark also complained about the proposed budget, saying their campus is being shortchanged.
Assemblyman Albert Coutinho, a Democrat who represents Newark and sits on the panel, said he's concerned that the Newark and Camden campuses of Rutgers still do not have fiscal autonomy from the flagship campus in New Brunswick. He said the higher education reorganization enacted last year specifies that each campus is to have a separate budget, but he noted that the reorganization has not been completed.