Education Takes Center Stage at Senate Budget Hearing

Senators Jen Beck and Steven Oroho.

Senators Jen Beck and Steven Oroho.

NEWARK – Members of the Senate Budget and Appropriations committee heard testimony from the public on Governor Chris Christie’s proposed FY 2017 budget on Tuesday. During the morning session, concerns from parents and educators about funding and resources in New Jersey’s schools were the main topic of conversation.

Parents from the Paterson school district turned out to continue espousing the message shared at previous budget hearings with the New Jersey Assembly. Parents stressed that the schools in Paterson need more funding.

Reverend John Gibbons, a representative of the Paterson parent teacher organization, spoke of the issues he believes the school district is facing.

“Our students in Paterson, at the level of education they are now, will never be able to take those opportunities to get a six-figure job,” Gibbons said. “This June will be 61 years since Brown v. Board of Education in the public schools for state education. Now, we are here 61 years later, 22 years after the state took over the Paterson school district and our children are not being educated.”

Gibbons continued: “We humbly ask you, we are not arrogant, we ask can something be done? If legal action must be taken, we will go there. We are raising a generation of uneducated kids.”

Senator Jennifer Beck (R-11) responded: “It is my instinct and opinion and working hard every day, but what it looks like to me when I look at the numbers is that we have districts across the state that have lost enrollment. The formula is a very generous formula that we will never be able to fully fund.”

According to Beck, school funding needs to be redistributed throughout the state so that districts that have lost enrollment are not getting funding above the adequacy standard at the expense of schools where enrollment has increased. She said that that issue is not only central to the discussion in Paterson, but in a number of schools statewide including those in Asbury Park and Freehold, both of which fall in her district.

“It is a critical issue, you have hit it right on the head,” Beck told the Paterson PTO representatives. “It must be fixed.”

A number of other school issues were also addressed at the Tuesday budget hearing including the need for services like Learning Ally to help students with dyslexia, charter school expansion and funding, increasing school choice, and addressing services for children with special needs.

Jennifer Keyes-Maloney spoke on behalf of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association. Her testimony touched on special needs funding, pension issues for teachers and school-related legislation.

A number of other issues not related to schools were also discussed at the public hearing. Speakers gave testimony on disability services, increasing tobacco cessation funding in NJ, anti-poverty services, women’s health, domestic violence environmental needs, advocacy for children in foster care, transportation issues, substance abuse, housing, healthcare and mental illness.

The panel was moderated by Senate Budget Chair Paul Sarlo (D-36). Other senators present at the hearing included Sam Thompson (R-12), Steven Oroho (R-24), Kevin O’Toole (R-40), Anthony R. Bucco (R-25), Brian Stack (D-33), Sandra Cunningham (D-31), M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29), Linda Greenstein (D-14) and Peter Barnes (D-18).

Education Takes Center Stage at Senate Budget Hearing