Education advocates seek increased funding

MONTCLAIR – Education advocates from across the academic spectrum testified for an increase in funding before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee in a hearing today and expressed concerns about the proposed higher education merger and system overhaul.

Susan Cole, the president of Montclair State University, said the average investment for higher education students by the state has decreased from $5,400 in 2006 to $3,800 per student in fiscal year 2012.

“Governor Christie has said that the average per pupil expenditure in K-12 schools is $17,700,” Cole said, expressing that higher education funding needs to increase.

Sen. Kevin O’Toole, (R-40), Wayne, asked the committee chairman, Sen. Paul Sarlo, (D-35), Wood-Ridge, if the committee could hold a budget hearing that focuses solely on higher education.

Sarlo agreed and said the committee will hold a full hearing just on higher education funding in the near future. The date has not yet been scheduled.

Richard Wolfson, of the Montclair State University Department of Curriculum, had concerns about the cost of the proposed merger of higher education institutions in the state.

In addition, he spoke about the proposed budget.

“A ten percent tax cut is simply the wrong way to go for the health and well being for the citizens of New Jersey,” Wolfson said. “There are few investments that have a higher return than investments in higher education.”

Tom Murphy, of the Health Professional and Allied Employees, said he was concerned that the governor is not providing the exact cost of the merger of Rutgers, Rowan, and the overhaul of UMDNJ, the University of Medicine and Dentistry.

“We worry that without a fiscal plan and state investment, the proposed (merger) could be set up to fail,” Murphy said.

Lynn Strickland, the executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, which advocates for public support of public education, said that public schools need more stable funding.

“It’s not an easy budget but we do feel it’s going in the right direction,” Strickland said.

Willie Rowe of the Ivy Hill Parent Teacher Organization in Newark said more revenue streams need to be put into the budget for school aid.

Rowe also asked for a reconsideration of the funding of charter schools. Charter schools are funded through school budgets, but are operated separately.

“We have the problem of charter (schools) being implemented in communities where communities don’t have time to decide if their budget can afford (a charter school),” Rowe said.

Sharon Krengel, the policy and outreach coordinator of the Education Law Center, asked that the committee “flatly reject the governor’s school aid proposal…and rewrite the provisions for school aid in the budget based on educational necessity.”

Students from Montclair State University also testified, asking for an increase in higher education funding to lower the cost of student loans.

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