January 28, 2023

Sauickie: No Time for a Victory Lap on Education

By Assemblyman Alex Sauickie

When you’ve already set your hopes and expectations low but you still end up disappointed, it’s very discouraging. But it’s no excuse to stop striving for improvement.

With all due respect to our Governor, I don’t agree with him on a number of major issues, so I didn’t expect to hear a lot I would like when I attended a State of the State address for the first time. As the newest elected member of the State Assembly, I was eager to hear his proposals on education, regardless of whether I’d like them, because the issue is so important. 

Being the husband and the son of teachers, and the father of current school students, I have a strong interest in education as most parents do. As I listened to Gov. Murphy, I was hoping for a small slice of common ground, a nugget of good news, anything I could work with to maintain and improve education in New Jersey.

As you already know, I was disappointed.

The Governor mentioned education five times and schools twice, but more to pat himself on the back than to advance improvements. He spent far more time talking about alcoholic beverage licensing, certainly an important economic matter but not a foundational issue for the futures of children across our state.

While school districts around New Jersey, including several that I represent, routinely have state aid slashed by a funding formula enacted by the Governor, he touted an overall increase in state education spending. That doesn’t address the staff and program cuts that too many students and schools suffer because of repeated state aid losses.

In the current school year alone, 189 districts statewide had their state aid cut, including nine of the 17 that I represent. In just one example, Jackson schools lost $4.6 million in aid. If schools have to cut staff, cut classes, and cut extracurriculars as a result, that suggests to me they weren’t overfunded. 

The course we’re on needs correction, and it doesn’t help much to criticize without proposing solutions. Therefore, one of the first things I did when I joined the State Assembly was to take over common-sense legislation proposed by the late Assemblyman Ron Dancer, and also introduce new legislation, to protect schools in our area and in other parts of the state.

The simplest bill (A3893) is a bipartisan proposal to provide school districts the amount of state aid in the current school year equal to what they received in the previous school year, reversing the latest cuts. Another fundamental bill (A3686) would create a school funding commission to study and report back on creating a new state funding formula. The current formula obviously doesn’t work, and needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

Additional bills require full funding of extraordinary special education aid from the state (A4526), allow transfers from school district capital reserves to the general fund to offset state aid cuts (A5033), and let school districts increase their enrollment in the interdistrict public school choice program, also helping to offset state aid cuts (A3005).

In addition, I sponsor a bill (A5029) to make permanent “stabilization aid” that has been available for school districts suffering cuts in state school aid or other budgetary imbalances, and “education rescue grants” for school districts that have had to cut teaching staff.

Finally, I sponsor a proposal (A4461) allowing Jackson, Lakewood, Howell, Toms River, Brick, and Manchester school districts to form a three-year, nonpublic school student transportation pilot program to tackle escalating busing costs. Districts are literally being bankrupted due to the current decades-old state mandate placing the costs of private school busing on the school districts and their property tax payers. This legislation seeks to fix that as well.

There is no shortage of ideas on how to improve education in New Jersey. Unfortunately, among some, there seems to be a shortage of will to act. We need to fight harder so that no student’s education will suffer from a lack of appropriate resources.

Alex Sauickie represents New Egypt and 13 other towns in the State Assembly.

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Note: This opinion piece originally appeared in The Jackson Times by Jersey Shore Online in its publication dated January 28, 2023.