Some New Jersey teachers may receive a surprise with the beginning of a new school year on the horizon. The U.S. House of Representatives is in position to possibly approve a $26 billion federal stimulus bill on Tuesday. However, there is not a great deal of optimism due to the timing of it with the new school year so close and thus making it hard to use those funds right away. If the bill is passed and ends up on the President Obama’s desk; questions arise regarding the ability to use the money effectively in a timely manner. Additionally, many former teachers; that this funding could aide in bringing back; may have found new employment elsewhere in the time since they were let go from their school.
One superintendent from the Manville school district, Johanna Ruberto, would “gladly accept whatever [they] can get and honor whatever timeline [they] can. But for a lot of school districts, it’s hard to just turn on a dime.”
This past Thursday, the U.S. Senate approved the legislation by a vote of 61-39. U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg stated, “That’s enough money to save about some 3,200 schools jobs.”
Congressman Bill Pascrell, who serves New Jersey’s 8th district, has expressed his intention to vote in favor of the bill on Tuesday. Pascrell stated, “We’ve been down this road before where we have done things quickly. Our intent is to make sure we have teachers in the classroom.”
Much of the focus tends to go towards the teachers who might have lost a job due to lack of funds, but as Joseph Del Grosso, president of the Newark Teachers Union, said, “I’m looking at a lot of different aspects to education like having peer review for teachers and merit pay. Just throwing money at a problem has never really fixed a problem.” This funding would aide in several aspects of education not just purely creating or restoring teacher jobs in the state. Plus, for a state like New Jersey, you need to ensure that money is spent wisely if it is there.
As outlined, states will have 30 days to apply for their portion of the $26 billion. If a state were to choose not to apply, the measure calls for the money to then be distributed to its Title I schools. Title I schools are low-performing schools that are funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Under Governor Chris Christie, $1.4 billion has been cut in state school aid and the elimination of about 10,000 teaching and support staff positions.
In the wake of this bill’s possibility, the New Jersey Education Association has already urged Governor Christie and the New Jersey Department of Education to begin preparations to be ready to be one of the first states to apply for this funding.
NJEA President Barbara Keshishian has given her input on the matter. Keshinshan said, “Districts do not have much time to prepare before school begins. The department should be providing districts with estimates of how much additional aid they will receive, so boards of education can begin to determine how many laid-off teachers they can bring back.” These meetings are of extra importance when there are limited funds and if new funds are available these school boards need the proper time to decide where the funds would be most effectively spent and used with a school year quickly approaching.
From the Governor’s end, Christie would not turn away the funding, but would not see it as a long-term solution. A spokesman, Michael Drewniak, for the Governor said,
“The budget problems we face continue to be extraordinary, and we will not allow ourselves to get into a situation of getting a major infusion of cash from the federal government that we then can’t replace. No one should think that our long-term problems will be solved by a new infusion of cash, or that the money will put off reforms.”
Additionally, Drewniak took to jab at former Governor Jon Corzine for using federal money as a quick fix funding source with unrealistic expectations.
During his first year in office, Governor Christie has cut roughly $820 million from last year’s spending on local school districts. That number was enlarged to $1 billion with the federal stimulus aid. Additionally, the state is expected to receive $399 million in Medicaid funding under the stimulus bill.
A growing problem, however, has been the hostility between Christie and the NJEA. The teacher’s aid has been garnering most of the attention.
If this bill does go through on Tuesday, Christie would be wise to ensure that New Jersey is guaranteed their share of the funding. This past year has been rough on school boards and districts with teacher cuts as well as other cuts occurring due to budget restraints. This funding would not solve the problem long-term, but would allow at least another year to try to troubleshoot what the state and the school districts need to do to ensure that there are enough teachers, who are qualified, in the classrooms so the state’s children are not robbed of a first class education.
Education is one of the cornerstone of this nation and unfortunately it has taken a few blows due to the current recession and state of the budget in New Jersey in particular. Additionally, this money must be monitored closely to ensure that it is spent wisely as unwise spending in the past has only added to the problem that exists today.
Legislation has seemed to have had more success in the U.S. House as opposed to the U.S. Senate, so the fact that it has passed the higher body of Congress; the bill looks likely. And it would come as a great relief with a new school year around the corner and school budgets on everyone’s minds.