Earlier today, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the official state budget for 2021. This year’s budget has been derailed by the pandemic, forcing the legislature to postpone the process and borrow significant funds to bridge the gap between falling revenues and rising expenses.
Although there were deep cuts to many departments and agencies, the overall budget is a positive one for our community, said Rabbi Avi Schnall, director of Agudath Israel’s New Jersey Office. Rabbi Schnall pointed to three key areas pertaining to nonpublic school funding where there have been considerable increases in funding.
The state’s Nonpublic School Security Program was increased from $150 to $175 per student, making New Jersey’s per-student allocation the highest in the nation. Additionally, as medical-related expenses are expected to surge this year, the State increased Nonpublic Nursing Services Aid from $97 to $102 per student, a modest $5 per-student increase.
Most notably, for the first time in seven years, the Nonpublic Auxiliary Services Aid (Special Education) was increased by $2.1 million, from $31 to $33 million. This increase is particularly important: The overall allocation for nonpublic special education funding in New Jersey has remained static for the past seven years, even as the number of eligible students grew. The discrepancy between the stagnant total allocation and increasing number of needy students resulted in a substantial decrease in the amount each student received.
Due to concerns over the dwindling funds voiced by educators and parents alike, the New Jersey Office of Agudath Israel engaged in a multi-year campaign to get the allocation increased for every child to receive their fair share. In the last year, under the aegis of the Agudah, scores of parents took part in a letter-writing campaign to their representatives asking them to appropriate additional funds. Rabbi Schnall testified in the Senate at the final public hearing on the budget before the pandemic, asking legislators to increase the allocation as necessary. Rabbi Schnall saw his efforts finally bear fruit when the legislature inserted the additional funding.
Aside the benefit of students receiving more robust services, Rabbi Schnall noted other positive outcomes of the additional funding. “We have been advocating for this for years now, and although there is still some way to go until we get to where we need to be, the fact that for the first time in seven years the funding has increased instead of remaining flat means we finally broke the ice,” said Rabbi Schnall. “Moreover, if we were able to get a $2.1 million increase in a year that the State was facing a multi-billion dollar loss in revenue, it gives us hope that in a normal year, we’ll be able to get the funding back to where it needs to be.”
The Agudah is grateful to Assemblyman Gary Schaer of Passaic for his vital work in facilitating these increases and for his nonstop work on behalf of our community. In addition, we appreciate the continued friendship of Governor Phil Murphy and his administration who continue to demonstrate that all of New Jersey’s student’s deserve a quality education.