The Atlantic City School District may lose $12 million in state aid it has been receiving to stabilize the tax base after casino tax appeals diminished revenue several years ago, according to Gov. Phil Murphy’s 2020 proposed budget.
According to the budget proposal, the community stabilization aid would drop from $32 million last year to $20 million in the 2019-20 school year. The funds made up a substantial portion of the district’s $162.5 million operating budget in 2018, and more than half of its total state aid this year.
School officials from Atlantic City did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment about the potential loss of state funds.
However, Atlantic City’s other state education aid is expected to increase as a result of the school funding reform bill passed over the summer, which eliminated growth caps for districts and phased out adjustment aid over a period of seven years.
During last year’s budget negotiations, school funding was part of a budget stalemate that shut down the government for several days in the summer. Eventually, the governor and the Democrats in the Legislature came to an agreement to revamp the funding formula to distribute more funds to those districts that had been underfunded for almost a decade — like Atlantic City — which meant decreasing aid to overfunded districts.
In his 2020 budget, Gov. Phil Murphy called for a total of $15.4 billion to fund K-12 education next year, a $450 million increase in funding over the previous year’s budget. The funding includes a more than $280 million increase in total aid for primary and secondary education, an increase of $68 million toward preschool programs, $323 million in teacher’s pension funding, and $32 million in construction debt service funds.
“These commitments mean we can continue to be a national leader in the delivery of high-quality public education,” Murphy said Tuesday.
Total post-secondary education spending is proposed to increase by $30 million in next year’s budget, with most of the increases funneled into the state’s Community College Opportunity Grant. The grant was provided this year to local colleges as part of a $25 million free college pilot program.
Murphy said the funds will reach 18,000 students in the 2019-20 academic year at every community college. An additional $5 million is proposed for the Tuition Aid Grant program and $2 million for Educational Opportunity Fund grants.
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Meanwhile, funding for the state’s public colleges and universities dropped by $12 million, but Murphy said that is because his administration is proposing a new, outcomes-based funding formula for these schools. This includes the redistribution of $15 million in operating aid and an additional $20 million in new funding, according to a budget document released by the Treasury.
“To access this funding, colleges will be required to commit to the Student Bill of Rights, the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet and other principles in the forthcoming student-centric state plan for higher education,” the document states.
“This is a first step in funding higher education through fairness, and not politics,” Murphy said, adding it is part of a yet-to-be released state plan on higher education.
The state has not released total aid figures for each school district and college, so the individual impact is not yet known.
Education advocacy groups responded Tuesday to the budget address with hope and cautiousness.
“This budget keeps us on the path of making up for almost a decade of neglect under former Gov. Christie and moves us toward the goal of full funding of school districts’ adequacy budgets under the (school funding) formula,” said David Sciarra, Education Law Center executive director.
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He said the ELC remains concerned about the impact of school funding reform on districts already spending below what the state considers adequate per pupil.
The New Jersey Education Association, which represents the state’s teachers and support staff, called the budget “progressive” and “people-focused,” and applauded the increase in funding of public education and the pension system, but urged the administration to work with districts hurt by drastic budget cuts to ensure they have resources to provide a high-quality education.
Presidents of local community colleges praised the increase in the free college grant program.
“The Community College Opportunity Grants are removing a barrier for many who never thought that college was a possibility for them to attend; providing career and transfer opportunities for eligible students,” said Atlantic Cape Community College President Barbara Gaba.