The Jersey City school district could potentially receive back millions in state aid funding after a federal department ruled that state funding cuts violated provisions in the American Rescue Plan.
The U.S. Department of Education ordered the state of New Jersey to ensure that poorer school districts must receive the same amount of funding in fiscal years 2022 and 2023 as they did in fiscal year 2019. Such actions, according to the department, would meet the requirements from the American Rescue Plan, which provided $2.5 billion in federal aid for New Jersey’s schools.
Ian Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Programs, wrote in a letter to New Jersey Education Acting Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan on Nov. 24 that the state cuts violated the maintenance-of-effort and maintenance-of-equity requirements of the American Rescue Plan.
“In other words, we expect that ‘two separate pools of funding’ would not be necessary, as long as all maintenance of equity requirements are met by a single pool,” wrote Rosenblum.
The order is a response to New Jersey’s School Funding Reform Act that was signed into law in 2018. The act rearranged school funding by allocating money to school districts that were considered underfunded and reducing aid to districts that were considered overfunded.
While the act was meant to help equally fund all school districts in the state, it had caused hard hitting funding cuts in Jersey City, which was considered by the state formula to be overfunded.
Back in May while passing the new school district budget, Superintendent Franklin Walker said that the district lost about $152 million in state aid this year and was projected to lose another $250 million over the next three years.
“Our focus is how to best meet the needs of the children,” said Walker at the time. “The district still lacks revenue and budget stability, which adds fiscal uncertainty when added to the pandemic impact and that 80 percent of our students are economically disadvantaged.”
The potential funding could come as a relief for the beleaguered school district. According to the Education Law Center, the Jersey City school district could receive up to $126 million in funds back from the state.
“The USED has vindicated the advocacy of Jersey City Together and ELC to enforce Maintenance of Equity” said Brigid D’Souza and Dr. Jyl Josephson from Jersey City Together in a statement. “The restoration of millions in state aid will be crucial for high poverty districts across the state, including Jersey City, to invest over the next two years in their students and recover from the pandemic.”
Jersey City Board of Education President Mussab Ali said that after years of draconian cuts to the budget, the order comes as a huge sigh of relief for the people of Jersey City.
“The only thing that I want to do is encourage the governor to restore funding as swiftly as possible, so that we can use it to enhance the quality of our education here in Jersey City,” he said.
Ali later said that the district plans to allocate the money towards infrastructure projects and other long term investments. “ I think that for us, we have recognized as a school district that there is some long term damage that has been done by COVID-19, and we really want to address that learning loss,” he said.
The order by the U.S. Department of Education would also affect a number of school districts and charter schools in New Jersey.