McGreevey


Don’t Blame The Governor… Yet. 3

There are a vast number of public policy issues that arise when policymakers discuss items such as a budget in order to make the best decision not only for the individuals in the community but to improve the society as a whole. Although each issue provides its unique aspect on what impact it plays to improve the lifestyle, it also brings differences not only its regulations but also in unintended consequences. The two categories compared in this analysis are the economic and budget issues as well educational policies including pre- and post-secondary education and what impact one plays upon the other.

Education policies, since the start of the country’s founding, have done well to maintain the basic goals of the American nation. Although for the most of the reasoning behind public education was morally justified, there are signs of political motivation behind an educated public as well. Since its early stages have sustained the firm belief of Thomas Jefferson that the only way the American democratic process could have active, engaged voters would be if they had the ability to read, write and were educated enough to understand the issues they were voting for. He also argued that different forms of learning eased the process of large immigrations assimilate into their communities more fluently. Finally, education paves the way for the worker to be able to find jobs which raise not only their economic, but social status as well.

Over the course of history in the United States, public education has been primarily dealt at the state and local government level. “Policymakers at these levels have guarded this responsibility throughout the years and raised concerns whenever the federal government has attempted to interfere in education policy, especially in primary and secondary schools.” Historically, the federal government has shown a far greater interest in legislating higher education. This can be related to policymakers wanting to reduce the cost of the individuals encouraged to attend college and universities and in the end, provide towards a better-educated population which would certainly stimulate an economic growth. This does not imply that the federal government has no say in the way educational policies are set. The Department of Education lists several goals geared towards legislation associated with the Educate America Act. Amongst the goals are School Readiness, School Completion, Student Achievement and Citizenship, Teacher Education and Professional Development, Mathematics and Science, Adult Literacy and Lifelong Learning, and Safe, Disciplined, and Alcohol- and Drug-Free Schools and finally, Parental Participation.

Even though there is little doubt as to whether the budgetary cuts by the current Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, were absolutely necessary, it is still up for debate whether the manner in which the cuts were made were the most efficient for the citizens of New Jersey. There are historical comparisons to be made with prior administrations to govern the state and how the education programs were handled relative to the entire budget. Since most states primarily depend on the property tax revenues to finance public schools, several states have begun to face political and legal pressures. Michigan and Vermont, for example, have adopted statewide sales tax that is then redistributed to the school districts across the state on a need-base basis. However, such an issue has been met with severe resistance from some citizens who seek answers from their local lawmakers as to how their funds are being dispersed. The Vermont Supreme Court subsequently ruled in favor of, and the state legislature passed Act 60, ruling that “equal educational opportunity is a right that must be guaranteed” by the states while others have suggested that although a more active role by the states will eventually be needed, such an increase in support would require a dramatic shift in how many currently fund their public education systems and likely cause states to raise taxes.

Historically speaking, in a 20-year span starting from 1940, the population of the state of New Jersey rose by roughly 50% although the number of people residing in the state’s largest cities would steadily decline for next two decades. The state was relatively slow to react to disperse aid to support the dramatic increase in the state’s population. In the mid 1950’s, the Education Board of Newark Board had estimated it require aid or additional borrowing of up to $50 million to get their school system into a reasonable condition. Even though New Jersey was only behind Montana in terms of school spending, it still ranked a disappointing 37th out of 50 when it came to the amount of aid provided in education. Since then, remedies were taken by the State to ensure students received proper public education in harmony with the state laws of New Jersey. Another subject, which is discussed later, is Abbott District which was a result of a ruling that asserted that public primary and secondary education in poor communities through the state were unconstitutionally substandard and required assistance.

The State of New Jersey has had three elected governors since 2002, each with their vision of what is the appropriate next step for the State. Democrats Jim McGreevey (January 2002 – November 2004) and Jon Corzine (January 2006 – January 2010) and Republican Chris Christie (since January 2010) each had a budget issue as one of the many items a Governor deals with. While comparing education budgets for the past three elected governors, it is easily noticeable that the two administrations prior to Chris Christie had a dramatic increase in their first year budget spending on education (as noted by the table below) although that was during a more stable economic period.

 

Education Budget (in millions)

 


Note: “Year Before”, “First Year” and “Next Year” all indicate the amount allotted
in the budget reference to the year that Governor took office.

Although it is interesting to note the two dramatic rises in terms of education budgets in the first year for the Democratic governors and the negative percent change for the Republican governor, it would be careless to conclude anything amongst party lines without consider a larger sample of history. Additional factors like state of the national economy and relationship of teacher’s union with the governor at the time must also be brought into consideration. On the other hand, the slight increase of 2.14% projected should not be strictly perceived as the education budget will increase under Governor Christie’s proposed budget. The rise is “due to increases in State school aid that is not paid directly to school districts, such as the State’s debt service payments for school construction bonds” and without such considerations, the State appropriations for “direct aid to districts, grant-in-aids, and direct State services” dropped when compared to the FY 2010 budget.

The recently released Office of Legislative Services (OLS) Budget Analysis for the Governors Budget, Fiscal Year 2010-2011 (FY 2011) states the previous fiscal year allotted just a shade over $11.13 billion in Total School Aid while the proposed amount this year is at $10.31 billion – a cut of $819.5 million. An additional $1.057 billion in federal fiscal stimulus money that was available to New Jersey’s school districts in FY 2010 is not available in FY 2011. The Governor significantly cut state spending on non-school aid purposes deeply with the intention that, beyond closing the State’s own massive budget deficit, his administration could achieve the savings necessary to provide school districts with $238 million in increased state funding.

Another OLS Budget Analysis for the Department of Education showed that the amount of funding that the state of New Jersey had budgeted from FY 2009 to FY 2010 decreased by 2.46% while the recommended FY 2011 budget stands at 2.18% increase. Amongst their various findings, a second report detailing the Education budget released by the OLS stated that:

The recommended FY 2007 appropriation for total State aid is $10.4 billion, an increase of $1.04 billion (11.1 percent over the FY 2006 adjusted appropriation for total State aid of $9.4 billion. The largest increase is in the recommended FY 2007 appropriation for Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Assistance, $823.2 million, or 77.3 percent of the total recommended State aid increase.

Of the less than 25 percent of the increase (approximately $215 million) from the State aid was then used to finance the rest of the Education budget which included items such as Special Education programs, Education Opportunity Aid (EOA) grants and Total Facilities Planning and School Building Aid. In comparison, the proposed FY 2011 budget recommends an appropriation of $7.076 billion in direct aid to school districts to support K-12 educational programs which is a steep 13% decline from the amount of aid allocated the fiscal year before and a 15% drop if the impact of “Grown Impact – Payment Changes” are removed. As a consequence of such reductions taking place, 60 different school districts will not receive any direct State school aid in FY 2011.

Governor Christie’s recent budget proposal makes cuts of millions of dollars to the education system in New Jersey. While many agree that cuts are needed to balance the state’s budget, the degree at which funding towards education for the state’s youth, while relatively similar in comparison to previous administrations appears to be astronomical compared to cuts to other areas in this fiscal year. One problem that Governor Christie is facing is his troubled relationship with the New Jersey Education Association. The NJEA did not support Governor Christie during the campaign and from the time he took office in January their relationship has deteriorated. The recent defeat of 316 school budgets across the state exemplifies the public’s attitude towards higher taxes and cuts to programs.

Although it is not necessarily a requirement to attend higher education compared to primary and secondary education, a very large majority of high paying career and companies now require some form of post-secondary education when selecting a candidate. The costs of higher education have increasing gotten out of hand. “In 2007, for example, public higher education costs rose 4.2 percent, which was about twice the rate of inflation” In the past quarter century, the cuts to higher education have varied from a minimal 3.4 percent to as high as 69.6 percent across various states around the country. In 1975-76, the ratio of federal grants to federally guaranteed low-interest loans was a reasonable 2:3. That ratio has since skyrocketed to 2:7 as of 2005-06, and further complicating the mixture are the wholly private loans that have emerged in the past decade representing nearly one out of every five student loans in 2004-05 – or double the percentage of private loans four years earlier.

Another major issue that which should never be ignored when dealing with educational policies in the Garden State are the Abbott Districts. Although they can be a case to analyze on themselves, the Department of Education adopted an outline that provides remedy of “Early Childhood Program Expectations: Standards of Quality” that are comparable to the standards that are pre-determined for grades K-12, and required Abbott districts to integrate them into their preschool programs which as burdensome of an issue maybe, is vital to the progression of the students in the lowest socio-economic status.

After looking through several reports, it seems inevitable that cutting the budget was necessary to reign in the deficit spending for the state of New Jersey and tough decisions needed to be made, regardless of how unpopular. The NJEA is by far one of the strongest unions in the nation that represents 200,000 teachers, education support professionals, higher education professionals, retired and student members with a self proclaimed goal of enhancing public education and improving the quality of system of public educations for all students. Such agendas, like all goals, do come with a price tag and at some point, there needs to be an account for figuring out how to pay for such goals.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Anyon, J. (1997). Ghetto Schooling: A Political Economy of Urban Educational Reform. New York: Teachers College Press.

Hu, W. (2010, April 21). Schools in New Jersey Plan Heavy Cuts After Voters Reject Most Budgets. Retrieved May 2, 2010, from New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/22/education/22schools.html

Kraft, M. E., & Furlong, S. R. (2009). Public Policy: Politics, Analysis, and Alternatives.

Office of Legislative Services. (April 2010). Analysis of the New Jersey Budget: Department of Education. Trenton.

Office of Legislative Services. (2002). Analysis of the New Jersey Fiscal Year 2002-2003 Budget. Trenton.

Office of Legislative Services. (2010). Budget Analysis of the New Jersey Budget, Fiscal Year 2010-2011. Trenton.

Symonds, W. C. (2002, October 14). Closing the School Gap. Business Week , p. 124.

Vermont Department of Education. (2010, March 19). Act 60: The Equal Education Opportunity Act. Retrieved May 5, 2010, from Department of Education: http://education.vermont.gov/new/html/laws/act60_fact_sheet.html