TRENTON — A revised state budget heading to the state Legislature on Thursday still includes more money for underfunded school districts, but takes less money from those considered overfunded.
The latest compromise approved by both the state Senate and Assembly budget committees late Monday allocates an extra $100 million for underfunded districts. But it reduces from $46 million to $31 million the amount of adjustment aid to be taken from districts considered overfunded by the state formula and distributed to underfunded districts.
Under the new revised 2017-18 plan, overfunded districts would lose no more than 1 percent of their total budget in state aid, down from 1.5 percent.
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, was one of four senators on the Budget Committee to vote against the budget. Van Drew said he worked to improve the budget, but the cuts to his school districts were still too great for him to support.
“We still take the worst hit in the state,” Van Drew said in a text. School districts in his legislative district would lose $4 million, down from $6 million in the original proposal.
Thirteen of 18 districts in Cape May County would lose state aid, as would Vineland and Millville.
The budget does include a provision to allow the education commissioner to approve loans to school districts that are in “fiscal distress” as a result of having their adjustment aid reduced.
The budget approved Monday also includes $25 million for expanded preschool and $25 million in additional funds for extraordinary special education costs. Specific data on how the funds would be allocated to districts is not yet available.
Budget data say the preschool funding would go to 17 districts identified by the Department of Education as ready to operate a high-quality full-day program, and having a sufficient number of low-income children. Those districts also were not identified, but in a statement praising the budget, state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg D-Bergen, said six districts in Bergen and Passaic counties were “among those first in line.”
Weinberg also noted $27 million of the extra $131 million in state aid would go to “virtually every district in Bergen and Passaic counties.”
“These are districts that are doing their best to make ends meet on tight budgets,” Van Drew said in a statement. “They are not wasting money, and will not be able to absorb the funding cuts without turning to property taxpayers to fill some of the gap.”
Van Drew said the cuts are the wrong way to address school funding.
“As it stands, this will wreak havoc on districts and on taxpayers, resulting in program cuts, teacher layoffs and tax hikes in communities that cannot afford to pay more,” he said.