Wednesday, April 26, 2017
New Jersey School District Forced to Spend $39 Million to Support Private Education While District Runs $15 Million Deficit in Its Own Schools
Lakewood School District in New Jersey has a budget crisis on its hands--a deficit of $15 million for the coming year. The district is forced to spend about $39 million on non-publication education. Regardless, to make up the shortfall in the public schools, the district plans to lay off over a 100 teachers and staff, eliminate sports programs, and drastically increase class size. In a state where the constitution guarantees students a "thorough and efficient" education and its courts have rigorously enforced this right, these cuts are troubling indeed--so much so that the state department of education has said it will not certify the district's budget as being in compliance with that constitutional mandate. In his recent essay in Asbury Park Press, David Sciarra writes:
Lakewood’s budget crisis is nothing new. The district lurches from year to year, making cuts in essential teachers, support staff, programs and services.
The victims of this tragedy are the 6,000 Lakewood public school children. Virtually all are poor and 95 percent are Latino or black. Twenty-seven percent are limited English proficient and 15 percent require special education.
The cause of Lakewood’s budget crisis is no secret. The district must not only support its public schools but it must pay to transport 30,000 students to private schools and pay for the cost of special education for many of those same private school students.
The drain on Lakewood’s budget from non-public expenditures is enormous. The district is forced to divert nearly $13 million in funds earmarked for public school students to pay for non-public transportation. It also must shoulder $26 million in non-public special education costs.
The state has the power to fix Lakewood’s budget crisis now. It doesn’t need new laws or changes to the school funding formula.
Acting Commissioner Kimberly Harrington has the authority to restructure the budget so it provides Lakewood students a thorough and efficient education. And Lakewood’s state fiscal monitor, Michael Azzara, is empowered to override the board of education if necessary to eliminate the budget deficit.
These state officials must act. First, they must halt the transfer of $13 million in public school funds to subsidize non-public transportation. Keeping those funds in Lakewood’s budget — where they belong — will stop the bleeding and allow the district to maintain essential services to its students.
Second, they must take the operation and cost of special education to non-public school students out of the district’s hands. The state must assume full responsibility to approve and pay for special education in private schools. This would relieve Lakewood of a fiscal and managerial burden it simply can no longer handle.
Let’s face it. The Lakewood budget has become nothing more than a vehicle for funneling vast sums of public school funds to pay for private and religious schools. This must end. Private school students are not constitutionally entitled to a thorough and efficient education. Only Lakewood public school children are.