Newark Needs $2b to Fix Schools

The city has a population of more than 300,000.

Source : New Jersey Schools Development Authority (SDA)

December 11, 2023

Author : Patty Allen

This summer has not been kind to Newark's public school students. Global warming is not the only thing to be blamed for this but also the inadequacy of the state administration. 

Some of the older school buildings in Newark had no functioning air conditioning or broken water fountains. The question remains why certain classrooms in the biggest school system in New Jersey weren't equipped to withstand the high temperatures. 

However, this was not the first incident of unpleasant classroom conditions for Newark students.

The superintendent of Newark Public Schools, Roger León, estimated that the state's oldest public school buildings would require more than $2 billion to renovate and repair fully. In high-poverty districts like Newark, the state pays for school construction projects.

This year, 86.3% of the district's revenue for schools in Newark comes from $1.2 billion in state funds, although that amount is limited to paying for operations and education expenses. State representatives have invested money into these initiatives on a "pay as you go" basis, leaving no space for long-term support. 

Furthermore, school districts like Newark have a lower property tax base than wealthier ones in the state, which restricts their capacity to bond for new projects to augment the budget. 

The state must provide all funding for these initiatives in Newark and thirty other high-poverty districts, including Paterson, Elizabeth, and East Orange, through the Schools Development Authority. This mandate resulted from several significant decisions that began in the 1985 Abbott v. Burke case heard by the New Jersey Supreme Court. Such decisions eventually aided in the formation of the SDA.  What are SDAs?

School districts are commonly called “SDA districts”. SDA stands for New Jersey Schools Development Authority which is the State agency that is responsible for entirely funding and operating construction, modernization and renovation projects for school facilities across 31 school districts. 

The state  provided the SDAs with $3.9 billion in funding in 2008, of which $2.9 billion went to areas with high poverty rates. Meanwhile, Governor Phil Murphy unlocked nearly $2 billion over the last two budget cycles, resulting in hundreds of building repair projects for districts throughout New Jersey and 19 new construction projects. 

That was the largest and most recent cash infusion to SDA and part of the organization's 2022 strategic plan. 

However, a report that the judge filed with the New Jersey Supreme Court in March claimed that the state would not make sufficient efforts to demonstrate that it would continue to support the SDA and school construction projects. The state legislature and Murphy's administration now have to figure out how to pay for them. 

The research director at the Education Law Center said, "There's an enormous amount of need, and the state is just putting in a fraction of the money that [schools] need."

In 2022, the SDA granted two new pre-kindergartens through eighth-grade schools to the district and 14 other projects across the state. These grants were made by keeping high-priority needs and overcrowding of students in the school in mind. 

According to the SDA report in October, eight other projects from them included underground vault repairs and demolition, masonry repairs, roof replacement, and stucco repairs and replacement. They also completed structural and basement water infiltration repairs at Shabazz High School and Roberto Clemente Elementary School. It cost them nearly $3.5 million in funding. 

Following Murphy's additional $75 million donation to the SDA, Newark Public Schools will get greater funding for school construction projects in the state's 2024 budget. According to Maier, the funds haven't been released yet. 

Wealthier school districts with substantial property tax bases may frequently afford to finance a bond for school construction projects; however, a city like Newark with a lower property tax base might be unable to do so. 

$138.3 million in local property taxes, or 10.3% of the district's 2023–24 budget, is used to support the operations of Newark Public Schools. Since the Newark taxpayers have not witnessed an increase in their property taxes, that figure has stayed constant for the past three years. 

Category : State Government Schools

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