top of page

OC/OS Education Policy Brief

A Girl in a Classroom

Access a downloadable version of the full OC/OS policy here.

June 2024

Executive Summary

 

In this brief, Our Children/Our Schools (OC/OS), a statewide network of New Jersey education, children’s rights and civil rights organizations that share a commitment to public school students and schools, outlines important education policy priorities and presents recommendations to inform the FY25 State Budget and beyond.

 

   I. School Funding Reform

 

While Governor Murphy has proposed full state funding of the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) in FY25, there is still work to be done to ensure that the formula is working effectively and that all public schools have the resources they need to provide a constitutionally mandated “thorough and efficient” education for their students. We recommend the following:

 

  1. The state should include an appropriation in the FY25 State Budget to fund an in-depth Educational Adequacy Report on the SFRA and a study of Local Fair Share (LFS) in the formula. This should include a robust community engagement process and consultation with school finance experts.

  2. Reasonable caps on state aid reductions should be implemented in future years to avoid the annual disruptions and uncertainty in school district budgets due to budget cuts.

  3. The 2% property tax cap should be lifted for districts with school levies below their LFS.

 

   II. Special Education Funding Reform

 

Census-based special education funding has caused severe inequities, and over 60% of districts received funding for fewer special education students than they actually enrolled in 2022-23. We recommend the following:

 

  1. The state should convene finance experts and meet with stakeholders to craft a system that better meets the actual special education funding needs of school districts.

  2. A comprehensive review of special education funding should be part of the next Educational Adequacy Report.

 

   III. Rejecting Private School Vouchers

 

Legislation currently being considered by the New Jersey Legislature, A4144/S3035, would establish the state’s first private school voucher program through a tax credit mechanism. While the program is capped at $37.5 million, examples from other states show that small voucher programs can quickly expand and have debilitating impacts on state budgets. We recommend the following:

 

  1. Legislative leaders must stand strong in opposition to A4144/S3035 and reject any future education privatization efforts to ensure taxpayer dollars flow to public schools and do not subsidize tuition at private or religious schools.

 

   IV. Funding for the School Construction Program

 

The state has a constitutional obligation to fund capital and emergent projects in the thirty-one former Abbott districts, now referred to as SDA districts. Governor Murphy’s proposed FY25 State Budget includes only $50 million, and over $7 billion is needed to alleviate overcrowding and replace aging buildings in the SDA districts. We recommend the following:

 

  1. Immediate action must be taken to establish dedicated funding for the school construction program, either through direct appropriation, the Debt Defeasance and Prevention Fund, or bond authorization.

  2. An allocation of $30 million should be included in the FY25 State Budget to fund the Buildings Conditions and Assessment Survey first recommended by the SDA in 2019. The survey will provide uniform, comprehensive information about the number and types of capital maintenance and emergent project needs in the SDA districts.  

 

   V. Funding for Community Schools

 

The community schools model allows schools to work collaboratively with students, parents, and teachers to identify the needs of the school community and develop a unique plan for that school and neighborhood. Community schools are proven to be an effective strategy for addressing students’ needs. We recommend the following:

 

  1. The Legislature should support A4107/S2243, a five-year pilot initiative that would expand community schools to an additional school in each of the state’s twenty-one counties.

  2. The Governor and Legislature should establish a line-item appropriation for community schools in the FY25 State Budget and in all future budgets to allow all public schools to become community schools.

 

   VI. Funding for Healing Centered Engagement (HCE)

 

The collective uncertainties and resulting traumas of the COVID-19 pandemic have severely impacted students, families, and school personnel, and educators are increasingly called on to meet the social–emotional, behavioral, and mental health needs of students. Healing Centered Engagement (HCE) is a model for improving the well-being of students and the adults who serve them in schools. We recommend the following:

 

  1. The state should explore expanding the HCE model to every school so that all schools can address students’ needs in holistic ways, considering their relationships, self-regulation, academic competence, and physical and emotional well-being. The FY25 State Budget, and all subsequent budgets, should include an appropriation for HCE.

 

   VII. Implementing Culturally Responsive Curricula and Diversifying the Teacher Workforce

 

New Jersey’s public school system, while racially segregated in many instances, is growing in diversity. It is imperative that school curricula and the state’s educator workforce reflect the diverse ethnicities and cultures of the state’s student population. We recommend the following:

 

  1. In the FY25 State Budget and all future budgets, the Administration and the Legislature should fund all the NJDOE Commissions (Amistad, Asian American Heritage, Holocaust, Italian and Italian American Heritage, Latino and Hispanic Heritage) that support efforts to ensure culturally responsive curricula.

  2. The NJDOE should prioritize efforts to increase the recruitment and retention of students of color into teacher preparatory programs and ensure funding is provided for these efforts.

 

   VIII. Addressing Staff Shortages at the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE)

 

The NJDOE has the crucial role of supporting New Jersey schools, districts, and educators, and ensuring that all students have access to equitable learning opportunities and the resources they need to be successful. Since Governor Murphy took office in 2018, the NJDOE has experienced substantial staff loss. We recommend the following:

 

  1. The NJDOE must prioritize hiring additional staff members and work to reduce turnover rates. New Jersey schools, districts, and students depend on and deserve a well-functioning Department of Education.

 

   IX. Filling Expired Seats on the State Board of Education (SBOE)

 

The SBOE plays a vital role in education policy decisions that impact New Jersey schoolchildren, their families, and educators across the state. Eleven of thirteen members sit in expired seats, and one of the recent new appointments sits in a seat that expires this year. We recommend the following:

 

  1. The Governor must re-nominate current Board Members who are champions of public education, including the recently confirmed Mary Bennett, and nominate additional State Board members.

  2. The Senate Judiciary Committee must then expeditiously work to confirm the nominees until all expired seats are filled.

bottom of page