TRENTON – Senate President Steve Sweeney Tuesday unveiled a $758 million school funding overhaul that he says would increase aid to underfunded districts, expand preschool programs and fully fund the state share of special education as part of an overall plan to shift responsibility for special education to the state level.
Sweeney's plan would provide $431 million for special education aid that will go to every school district in the state, $277 million in increased aid to underfunded districts, and $50 million in additional preschool grant funding that will be available on a competitive basis to any school district that wishes to apply.
“This plan keeps our commitment to school funding fairness for taxpayers by providing more money to districts with growing enrollments and phasing out extra funding for students who are no longer there,” said Sweeney. “It keeps our promise to expand preschool education because it is the best investment we can make in the future of our children and our state."
Sweeney said that the reform addresses a crisis in special education funding.
“With this initiative, we fully fund the state share of Extraordinary Special Education Aid, we fully fund Special Education categorical aid, and we will be introducing legislation to shift responsibility and oversight of special education to the state level," he said.
The program would be paid for a 3 percent surcharge on the Corporate Business Tax projected to raise $657 million – of which $26 million will go to environmental programs as a result of previous constitutional dedication – and by shifting $127 million from what he calls "over-funded" districts.
How this would affect schools in South Jersey is yet to be seen. Last year's school funding changes left several South Jersey schools in a lurch in July after large amounts of funding were cut from the districts deemed over-funded. Some schools in Cumberland, Cape May and Atlantic counties lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in state aid and were forced to cut capital projects and school programs and eliminate positions.
This story is developing. Check back for updates.