Expansion of free college, infusion of hundreds of millions more into K-12 education and more shared services are just some of the educational items in Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed 2021 budget.
Murphy delivered his plan for the next fiscal year Tuesday afternoon. The governor and the Legislature have to enact a budget by June 30, per constitutional deadline.
“Our public schools rank as the very best in the nation in large part because of our commitment to investing in classrooms in every community — in our highly talented students and our highly skilled educators and educational support professionals. School funding is an investment in our future,” Murphy said. “But, just as important, school funding is property tax relief. Let’s be absolutely clear — every new dollar in school funding is a new dollar of property tax relief. Every new dollar we provide is a dollar that doesn’t have to come out of the pockets of property taxpayers.”
While state aid figures for each district won’t be released until Thursday, here are the top takeaways from Murphy’s address.
Free college expansion
On Tuesday, Murphy hinted at a new proposal to expand free college in New Jersey: the Garden State Guarantee.
“The Garden State Guarantee will build upon the already successful model of the Community College Opportunity Grant program, and provide the first two years of study at one of our four-year public colleges and universities tuition-free to thousands of eligible students,” Murphy said.
As of spring 2019, students in New Jersey attending community college were eligible to receive what is called “last dollar” funding to cover tuition and fees so long as they were taking at least six credits and had a family income less than $45,000 a year.
The funding is called “last dollar” because it covers any gap remaining between a student’s tuition and fees and all other financial aid grants they receive.
The income eligibility was increased to $65,000 in last year’s budget.
Murphy met with students at William Paterson University on Wednesday to discuss the initiative.
Under the proposal, Murphy plans to add $50 million in new money to fund the program for students whose annual household income is less than $65,000.
To receive the additional funding, public colleges — including Stockton and Rowan universities — will be required to commit to cost predictability and transparency measures.
More K-12 aid
The governor’s proposed budget includes $16.3 billion for preschool through 12th grade public education, an increase of $336.5 million for K-12 education formula aid and $83 million in new preschool spending. According to the Governor’s Office, $25 million of the new funds will be used to assist about 30 additional districts ready to launch new programs.
In addition, the budget proposes $50 million in stabilization aid as one-time assistance for districts that need it due to aid cuts based on the redistribution of the school funding formula. According to the New Jersey School Boards Association, during a briefing Tuesday morning, a Murphy administration official indicated districts would have to apply for the aid and meet certain criteria.
Other education-related aid
Under Murphy’s budget, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development will allocate more than $20 million to support apprenticeships, paid internships, incumbent career training and targeted solutions for businesses facing talent challenges.
It also again funds a $10 million investment toward shared services.
Murphy said the budget will also fully fund the state’s Amistad Commission, which is dedicated to infusing black history curriculum in public education throughout the school year. The budget proposal document shows $750,000 is proposed to fund the commission.
In a statement from the New Jersey Education Association, the state union representing teachers and support staff, President Marie Blistan, Vice President Sean M. Spiller and Secretary-Treasurer Steve Beatty lauded the governor’s budget message.
“It shows that the governor understands that public education is an investment in our future that will pay off many times over. Likewise, the commitment to making higher education more affordable, especially at New Jersey’s county colleges, sends a signal to families that higher education is accessible. It also says to employers that New Jersey is committed to building a prepared, talented workforce for the jobs of today and the jobs of tomorrow,” the statement reads.
New Jersey School Boards Association officials said they are going to wait until the state aid allotments are released to comment.