Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Education Focus of Budget Hearing

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Education Focus of Budget Hearing

Article excerpt

Calls for education funding dominated the Assembly Budget Committee's hearing Wednesday at Passaic County Community College as lawmakers reviewed Governor Christie's proposed $33.8 billion spending plan.

About a third of the roughly 60 people who spoke during the lengthy hearing in Paterson focused their remarks on school aid, calling for more money to go to college tuition assistance programs. Others said the state should provide more money for K-12 education at a time when districts have spent millions of dollars to upgrade technology and prepare for the new PARCC standardized tests.

There were also several requests specific to Paterson's public school district, which has been run by the state for 25 years. City officials and parents told lawmakers that the state-appointed superintendent has proposed increasing the local tax levy by $5 million or about 13 percent -- the first local school tax hike in more than a decade.

"I believe that's next to impossible in our community," Paterson Councilman Alex Mendez told the panel.

Parents and school board officials complained about a lack of control over how the money is spent.

"In Paterson we don't have books. Our children in this city prepared for the PARCC test on paper printouts of keyboards," said Rebecca Fernandez, a parent organizer with the Parent Education Organizing Council in Paterson.

Christie has proposed keeping school aid flat. Paterson receives nearly $400 million in state aid under a funding formula that requires low-income urban areas to receive a larger portion of state assistance. One school board member who testified, however, said the district lost $19 million in aid because its attendance rate dropped a few points below the 95 percent mandated by the state.

Under the proposed $477 million budget for coming school year, Paterson taxpayers would pay $44 million, up from $39 million.

'Hard to justify'

Some speakers from wealthier suburban communities who spoke at the hearing took issue with the disproportionate amount of aid going to districts like Paterson. It was a position Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-Morris, agreed with. …

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