BLACKWOOD – The $862 million state aid cut last fiscal year, combined with tax cuts for the state’s wealthiest citizens, resulted in draconian cuts to public education, the New Jersey Education Association told the Senate budget committee on Tuesday.
At a Senate Budget and Appropriations hearing at Camden County College, NJEA Vice President Wendell Steinhauer said the cuts translated into 6,000 less teachers, 4,000 fewer paraprofessionals, larger class sizes and an array of extracurricular activities either cut or requiring parents to pay fees in order for their children to participate in them.
“Students were hurt because of the lack of programs,” he said.
Districts throughout the state made various program cuts, he said. The Paterson school district saw 80 percent of its art teachers gone, Cherry Hill gutted its foreign language program and the high school in the Aberdeen-Matawan school district shut down its library, he said.
While he was grateful that Gov. Chris Christie proposed to restore $250 million in school aid, he said it’s still a fraction of what school districts previously received.
“In short, last year’s budget hurt schools and students while giving a tax break to the very wealthy and making the property tax situation even worse,” he said.
He added that various state mandates are “strangling” the schools’ ability to raise more revenues to pay for school costs, which he said will result in even deeper cuts.
“I believe that’s the ‘new normal’ we’re looking at,” he said.
“You can’t cap your way out of true school funding,” he said. “It’s time to look at true shared sacrifice.”
Sen. Steve Oroho, R-24 , of Sparta, countered that New Jersey is among the biggest investors in public education among the northeastern states. He pointed out the state spends about $9 billion more than the average northeastern state, yet it’s only slightly better in its performance on assessment tests.
He suggested that the NJEA find ways to “close the resource gap” so the ratio between per-pupil costs and performance is more in line with neighboring states.
“The state’s commitment to public education cannot be questioned,” Oroho said.
Steinhauer pointed out that New Jersey is among the “smartest” states in the country and funding for public education helps make that possible.