Thursday, June 25, 2015

NJ FY16 budget: education death by a thousand cuts

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

On June 30th, Gov. Christie will no doubt sign the FY16 budget which includes this: 


Having already violated the state's School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) by underfunding NJ schools to the tune of $6 billion over the past 5 years, the governor, with the approval of the Democratic-majority state legislature, will once again pull precious resources from public schools to give to charters. 


This budget leaves districts without any of the $1 billion increase they should have received had the SFRA been properly funded in 2015-16. 
The bottom line from this budget is another round of painful cuts to essential programs, staff and services for many underfunded districts across the state.
... 
[T]he legislators also adopted Governor Christie's proposal to strip $37.5 million from district budgets and give extra funding to NJ charter schools. According to an analysis by the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services, eight districts, including Paterson, Irvington, Trenton, Jersey City and Plainfield, must transfer from $500,000 to $2.3 million in extra funds to charter schools. Newark stands out as charters in the city will reap a $24.5 million windfall, a major reason why the district is facing a massive $50 million budget deficit. By giving Newark charters extra funding, the State-operated district must make even deeper cuts to teachers, courses, support staff and remedial programs for students in the district's public schools. (emphasis mine)

As a result, the district is looking to cut $20 million from the central office budget (not a bad thing), and $10 million from the teacher salary line item (not a good thing).

I don't need to spell this out. This is what Gov. Christie wants: death by a thousand cuts. If a district is this much in the hole, many parents are going to look at charters as a viable alternative. With their low class sizes and (arguable) success rates, many parents simply won't take the chance. So, where does that leave the public schools? As Julia Sass-Rubin of Save Our Schools reports:
This dramatic growth in the number of charter schools seats is coming at a significant price to local school districts, particularly as the charter schools are educating a much less challenging population of students, leaving the local public schools with a concentration of high-poverty, non-English speaking, and special needs students but without the resources they need to provide those students with a high-quality education. 
Local public schools are being gutted of resources and forcibly closed because of inadequate funding, yet the Christie Administration diverted $100 million more to charter schools this year and next year, than what is called for under the charter law. 
This truly is a social justice issue, as a small group of edupreneurs work with the Christie Administration to grow their revenue stream at the expense of local public schools. (emphasis mine)

While I've come to expect this from Christie, Cami, Cerf, Hespe and all the rest, I find it reprehensible that some of our Democratic leaders in Trenton have abandoned the party's core values by turning their backs on their constituents. Unfortunately, many are simply following marching orders from the party bosses who are close allies of the governor. But I wonder how they sleep at night knowing how much they've sold out the very people who voted them in to office. The public trust is broken. The number of Trenton legislators who can truly be counted on to look out for the welfare of the majority of our state's citizens is dwindling.

So, suburban taxpayers, why should you care? Let me put it to you this way: How would any of you feel if our taxpayer-funded public libraries, or any other publicly-funded agencies, suddenly started denying access to people based on their disabilities, socioeconomic status or the language they speak? How would you feel if a wealthy billionaire donated money to open a shiny, new library with all the latest bells and whistles, but you have to win a lottery to step inside? And your taxpayer dollars were diverted to that shiny, new library thus reducing the quality of services provided by your local library? And how would you feel if you managed to win one of those golden tickets only to be eventually told that you aren't the 'right fit' so you can't go there anymore?

This is what's happening in urban districts all across this state. Your tax dollars are being used to aid and abet the segregation of our state's highest-need school districts. And the FY2016 budget is only making things worse.

We cannot stay silent.

At a time when the Newark school district is bleeding money and students to support the rise of segregationist charter schools, this is not how I want my tax dollars spent. Taxpayers in the suburbs need to care because public education is about educating all students; not just yours, not just mine—all of them. As a society, as a nation, we are ultimately judged on how we treat the least of our brothers and sisters. In this budget, the state is turning its back on the least. 


If you don't want your tax dollars spent like this, if you believe that all students deserve access to a thorough and efficient education, call Senate President Steve Sweeney at (856) 339-0808, then call your state representative. The link to contacts is on the right. The budget has to be signed, sealed and delivered by Tuesday, June 30th, so don't delay.


Adding: The longer this continues in our urban school districts, the more I'm reminded of this movie: