Now comes the grunt work on Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed fiscal 2014 budget, as the state Legislature begins its department-by-department reviews of the $32.8 billion spending plan -- starting this week with education.
The nearly $8.9 billion allotted to state aid for public schools is the biggest slice of Christie’s plan, and it very well could get the bulk of the debate, too. Discussions over urban school reform, teacher evaluation, property taxes, and school vouchers are all woven into the line items for education.
The Assembly budget committee's department hearings start on Thursday morning in Trenton, with state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf slated to testify.
Education will also be the focus in the final stop in the Assembly’s road show of public testimony being held today in Newark as well, with school advocates preparing large public protests.
As the legislators and their staff prepare to parse the numbers, here are a few prevailing questions that are likely to come up -- and may even be answered:
How good -- or bad -- is this budget for the state’s public schools?
It’s not easy to tell whether this is the most generous education budget in history or one of the most egregious, given the rhetoric coming from both sides in the debate.
Actually there is a bit of truth in each.
The governor is in full reelection mode, pitching the state’s investment in school aid as the highest ever. And strictly by the numbers, the amount is indeed the most the state has directly paid.
But that’s hardly the full picture. In fiscal 2010, schools actually received more in state aid, helped by an additional $1 billion in federal stimulus money. The year after, without that help, Christie made deep aid cuts to schools, leading to unprecedented layoffs and decimated programs.
Three years later, districts are getting close to returning to those 2010 totals under Christie’s latest budget, but the financial wounds were deep and with a 2 percent tax cap in place since then, few would say they have healed.
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