With the Fiscal Year 2024 budget season now underway in New Jersey, both houses of the State Legislature have begun holding a series of public hearings.
On Monday, Agudath Israel of America’s New Jersey director, Rabbi Avi Schnall, testified at the Assembly Budget Committee’s first public hearing, to ask the members of the committee to increase the amount of funds allocated for nonpublic school auxiliary services and for an increase in funding for nonpublic school transportation.
During his testimony, Rabbi Schnall noted that while Governor Murphy’s proposed budget projects an expected increase of 9,000 students who will be eligible for such aid in 2024, the amount allocated per pupil remains at last year’s levels, without accounting for the larger number of students in school this year over last year.
Rabbi Schnall also pointed out that since 1998, when the State Legislature determined an allocation of $995 per student was necessary to ensure all eligible students receive the proper remedial education, the total amount has only increased by $45, a number well below the recommended amount especially when considering wage and administrative increases, as well as inflation.
Fewer funds available for children means less money available to hire teachers, which results in larger class sizes and/or less time per student.
“The children eligible for these services are the most vulnerable amongst our students,” Rabbi Schnall noted. “These children deserve, as the statute says, the ‘fullest possible opportunity to develop their intellectual capacities,’” he told the committee.
“We therefore implore the members of this committee to increase the per-pupil amount from $1,040 to $1,300,” he added. Such an increase would add about $13 million of aid for nonpublic school students.
Rabbi Schnall also requested that the Legislature increase the funding allocated to nonpublic school transportation, which the state is required to provide for all students living more than a certain distance from their school, asking the committee to raise the annual amount to $1,300 per student, up from the current $1,022.
“It is a disturbing fact that more nonpublic school transportation is fulfilled via aid-in-lieu payments than the number transported,” Rabbi Schnall stated. “Aid-in-lieu is helpful to nonpublic school parents if only transportation cannot be provided.
Aid-in-lieu is what the state provides to parents if the local school district declines to provide transportation, which is the case for a majority of mandated school children in the state.
“Tens of thousands of New Jersey children, entitled and mandated to receive a means of transportation to their schools, are being shortchanged,” Rabbi Schnall added.
While the governor proposes the budget, it is ultimately the lawmakers who are responsible for drafting and approving the annual appropriations act, sending it to him for his signature or veto prior to the July 1st deadline.
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