TAKE ACTION FOR OUR SCHOOLS

The Jersey City Board of Education will vote on the 2022/23 schools budget on March 21st.
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This letter was created by the Jersey City Together Education Team. I am hosting the letter on CivicParent to support the advocacy. To learn more about Jersey City Together's advocacy and ongoing work (and how you can plug in), click here.

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Public Schools

30,000+

Students Enrolled

$660M+

K-12 Operating Budget

$68M+

2022 State Aid Cut

What is Jersey City's school funding crisis?

In 2018, the state of NJ passed "S2," a law that began withdrawing excess education aid from Jersey City Public Schools. The state's mandate: quadruple the levy within the next 5-7 years. In 2018, Jersey City's school tax levy was only $124 million; by 2021 it had grown to $278 million.

I created the slide below as part of a brief education talk that was part of Jersey City Together's March 7th action around school commitments from Acting Superintendent Norma Fernandez and BOE President Gerald Lyons. The facts are clear: we can either fund our schools more locally or we can face drastic layoffs. If we want full staffing, we must have a full school levy. 

Key issues in 2022

We need to fully fund but we also need more transparency into how the investment is being managed, to ensure that district administration is funding to children's needs..

In NJ, school funding should follow the child

In 2008, NJ adopted a new school funding formula called "SFRA" or the "School Funding Reform Act." This formula drives our public schools budget.

SFRA bases "adequacy" on a weighted-average student formula, whereupon students are given higher "weights" depending on higher levels of need (and the need is supposed to drive the funding). General education students are given a base-weight. But then three main categories of students with greater levels of need are lifted up by SFRA: At-Risk (Lower Income), English Language Learners, and Special Education. Each school district's budget is "built up" by applying a weighted-average-student formula to the student population in that district. This "built-up" budget is termed the district's "adequacy budget". Learn more about weighted enrollment and its relevance to school funding here.

At-risk (lower income) Students

Children enrolled in the federal free or reduced lunch program are deemed at-risk for purposes of the funding formula. Free or reduced lunch is a federal program that students qualify for if their family earns below a certain threshold of income.

English language learners

English language learners (ELL) can be both at risk and ELL, or ELL-only depending on the income of their family. They are given a higher weight depending on their need (ELL and at-risk, or ELL-only).

Special Education Students

Children are deemed eligible for special education enrollment if they have one or more disabilities identified in NJAC 6A:14-3.5. Those disability categories include hearing or speech impairment, autism, and learning disability.

Jersey City Public Schools in 2022

Jersey City Public Schools fully funded itself for the first time in 2021/22, as the district emerged from pandemic. Much work remains to make up for years of chronic budget cuts and two years of pandemic. Here are some examples:

Increasing Class Sizes

Students are still experiencing larger class sizes due. The district laid hundreds of staff off in 2019 due to budget cuts and more staff have resigned or retired in the wake of COVID-19 and the return to school. What's more, some schools have classroom capacity issues, as school capacity has not kept pace with residential construction growth.

Inconsistent access to water

Many of our schools have lead pipes that have never been replaced. Water fountains are either shut down or have been removed completely. Students rely on a water bottle delivery system that can and does break down. While the MUA and school district have made promises to fix the water, most schools are still dry and kids leave school daily with headaches and thirsty.

Loss of Critical Staff

Most of our schools lack enough staff members charged with maintaining safe school climate, including crisis intervention teachers (CITs), guidance counselors, and security guards. The mental health pandemic has hit our district but we lack qualified staff to support our children.

Won't a school levy hike mean more taxes overall?

Not necessarily. A school tax levy hike could be mitigated by a few factors, including cuts to city spending.

We saw this exact scenario play out in 2021, when the school board increased the school tax levy but the mayor and city council lowered the city levy and it was a "wash" overall for taxpayers, who didn't have an overall (county + city + schools) tax increase. Check out the article below for an overview of how the school board action caused the city to react with a lower city tax.

Can't we just pull more school funding from abatements?

No. While abatements are toxic to the school funding landscape, they are not a viable source of revenues in the short term to fund our schools, given the growing deficits related to state aid cuts. The school levy is the key to long-term sustainable funding of the schools.

In Jersey City, approximately $40M of school tax is locked up in abatement contracts

Why the school levy - not abatements - is key to funding our schools

Abatements & Schools: a dashboard for taxpayers including overview of school impact

So...how can we direct more money to the schools?

The Board of Education must raise the school tax levy. The BOE can do this through its annual budgeting process, which starts in March and ends in early May. The Board of Education can (and should) leverage the power of the growing tax base to fund our schools.

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