A student disembarks from a bus on the first day of school in September 2016 at St. Dominic School, Brick. Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year includes $9 million in cuts for nonpublic school students. Jennifer Mauro photo
A student disembarks from a bus on the first day of school in September 2016 at St. Dominic School, Brick. Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year includes $9 million in cuts for nonpublic school students. Jennifer Mauro photo

From staff reports

The Catholic bishops of New Jersey are continuing in their efforts to ensure that transportation for nonpublic school students is a priority for lawmakers in Trenton.

As part of a letter campaign in the state’s five Catholic dioceses, the bishops are urging budget committee members to increase the $884 per student allocation for nonpublic school transportation funding, which has been frozen since the 2007-2008 budget year. That amount, argue the bishops, the New Jersey Catholic Conference and the New Jersey Network of Catholic School Families, falls short of what is needed, as many school bus companies consider that amount non-profitable and won’t pick up routes that will transport students to Catholic schools. 

“Catholic schools have told us it is one of the most important factors in the closing of schools,” said Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the NJCC, the public policy arm of the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey.

The NJCC also recently reached out to state legislators whose districts fall within the Diocese of Trenton, urging them not only to support transportation funding but also to restore monies for security, nursing services and technology that were slashed in Gov. Chris Christie’s recent state budget.

“You may have noticed in the media that each year an increasing number of Catholic schools throughout the state are closing because of lower enrollments,” George V. Corwell, director of the NJCC’s office of education, wrote in a letter sent to lawmakers. “We all know that when a nonpublic school closes, almost all of the students enroll in a local public school at full cost to the local district.”

“A major contributing factor to lower enrollments and subsequent school closures is the unavailability of safe transportation to school for nonpublic school students,” he continued. “Even though every child deserves a safe trip to school, safe transportation is not always available for all nonpublic school students.”

On average, it is estimated that it saves the state $19,000 for each student who attends a Catholic school.

In addition, Gov. Christie’s proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year also reduced aid for school nurses and technology, and eliminated monies for nonpublic school security – all issues Corwell addressed in his letter. In reaching out to lawmakers, Corwell also sent recent news from The Monitor highlighting the difficulties facing nonpublic school students in these areas.

Recent articles include:

In jeopardy: Catholic leaders deeply concerned over school funding cuts in Christie budget – The March 12 release of Gov. Christie’s 2018 budget revealed a proposed $9 million in cuts, including no further increase for non-public transportation funding. 3/22/2017

Delran student addresses state lawmakers on nonpublic chool transportation funding – Holy Cross Academy student Sierra Caponegro and associate principal Robert DiMedio testified March 15 before lawmakers at the State House in Trenton, appealing to them to fight for an increase in transportation funds. 3/15/2017

Increase in funding sought for transportation in nonpublic schools – Parents, guardians and educators are encouraged to contact the Governor’s office directly to appeal for an increase in funding. 12/7/2016

For more information on restoring needed funding in the state budget or to get involved by contacting your state legislators, go to njcatholic.org/issues.