Public schools and colleges will get more money next year under the budget plan Gov. Chris Christie proposed Tuesday, but it won’t be much more, and many of the increases are targeted to specific programs.
Statewide, $12.9 billion will be spent on education, more than a third of the total budget, and an increase of $481 million.
The largest share of the increase, $447 million, is going to make up the shortfall in pension and medical benefits for teachers, which will cost $3.4 billion in fiscal year 2015.
Another $9 billion will be spent on direct aid to districts, an increase of just $36.8 million.
Only $1.8 million of that goes to basic formula aid, and $13.5 million will be distributed across all districts for pre-pupil growth aid. Another $13.5 million will be allocated on a per-pupil basis to help districts prepare for new state tests in 2015.
Local school districts will not get their specific aid numbers until today or Thursday.
In response to his State of the State address call for a longer school day and year, Christie announced a competitive $5 million Education Innovation Fund grant program in which schools will propose ways to increase student learning time.
New Jersey Education Association President Wendell Steinhauer issued a statement saying they are pleased that the governor recognizes that extending the school day and year does come at a cost. He said any approved proposals should be monitored for three years to see if they are effective.
The budget includes an extra $5 million for preschool and $4.8 million for the Public School Choice program, but those funds just address growing enrollment in those programs.
There will be 128 choice districts in 2014-15, up from 105 this year. Among the new districts are Atlantic City, Vineland, Pinelands Regional, Middle Township, Upper Township and Wildwood Crest, which will get extra state aid for students they accept from outside their towns.
Charter school aid will decrease from $16 million to $12 million.
Higher education will get $2.3 billion, a $159 million or 7 percent increase, but most of that money will cover the debt service for the “Building Our Future” construction bonds and the cost of fringe benefits for faculty and staff, which are paid by the state.
Richard Stockton College will get almost $47 million, a 5.6 percent increase of almost $2.5 million, which includes the extra fringe benefit payment.
The impact on tuition is not yet known and is typically not decided until late spring. Both Rowan University and Richard Stockton College did not raise tuition or fees this year, but officials warned it would be difficult to do two years in a row.
County colleges will share a less than 1 percent increase in aid, which also includes the state fringe benefit cost.
Cumberland County College last week increased tuition by 3 percent in anticipation that state aid would not increase. Atlantic Cape Community College is expected to address tuition at its March meeting.
Low-income college students will benefit from an additional $14 million in Tuition Aid Grants for a total $355 million. A bill that would require the state to report on how many recipients actually graduate failed to make it through the state Legislature last year.
Funds for the NJSTARS scholarship program will be cut by almost 20 percent, from $10.6 million to $8.5 million, which may reflect fewer students using the merit-based program that requires them to start at a community college.
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Education budget facts
Direct aid to school districts will increase $36.8 million to $9 billion.
School districts will share $13.5 million to cover costs of implementing new state tests in 2015.
A $5 million Education Innovation Fund competitive grant program will fund programs to extend the school day and/or year.
State funding for Tuition Aid Grants to help low-income college students will increase 4 percent to $355 million.
State funding for the NJ STARS I and II merit scholarship programs will decrease 20 percent to $8.5 million.