New Jersey Catholic leaders are calling upon residents to contact the Governor’s Office regarding the needs of nonpublic school students in the upcoming 2023-2024 Fiscal Year Budget.

In an Action Alert issued Jan. 18 by the New Jersey Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops, voters are urged to request of Gov. Phil Murphy two types of education funding increases: school transportation and remedial instruction for language arts and mathematics.

The NJCC and New Jersey Network of Catholic School Families support an increase in transportation funding from the statutory ceiling of $1,000 to at least $1,300 per pupil. In their explanation, they note that the ceiling for the current school year was increased in the last state budget by a mere $22 per pupil, hardly enough to cover bids on the routes by private companies.

“Transportation is the lifeblood of nonpublic schools,” the NJCC stated in materials promoting the Action Alert, noting that private bus contractors currently serving over 85 percent of the nonpublic school routes may charge whatever they want. “No public school child is ever denied a ride to school because of transportation costs.”

Attempting to accommodate the lower per-student funding, nonpublic schools have tried combining public and nonpublic students on the same bus, eliminating half-school days and bidding routes at a reduced number of days. However, increases in fuel and decreasing numbers of school bus drivers have thwarted efforts to make busing available to all nonpublic school students, the NJCC stated.

“The per-pupil amount for nonpublic school transportation was frozen for 17 years, and we are still trying to recover from that freeze,” according to the NJCC. “Legislation was enacted in 2003 that provided for an increase in the nonpublic transportation ceiling commensurate with the Consumer Price Index figure…”

Sister Rose DiFluri, assistant superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Camden, observed, “As everyone who is trying to navigate this time of inflation knows, $22 does not even buy half a tank of gas. Parents deserve to be given enough money in lieu of transportation to cover bringing their children to and from school each day.”

Barbara Stevens, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Metuchen, asserted that a lack of transportation “disallows Catholic schools to be a viable choice in the education of children.”

She continued, “The per-pupil increase actually helps to save the taxpayer money. If a nonpublic school is not a viable option for a student due to the lack of transportation, that child will transfer to the public school at a greater expense to the taxpayer.”

In addition, the NJCC and NJNCSF are advocating for an increase in funding for compensatory education from $1,040 to $1,300 per service. Known as Chapter 192, it has provided remedial instruction in language arts and mathematics for nonpublic school students since 1977.

“Less funding for Chapter 192 services means that students will have class minutes cut, overall sessions reduced and larger group sizes offered from state providers that are working with fewer educational dollars,” said Barbara Dolan, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Newark. “This frustrates the purpose of the program, which is to give students the time and attention they need to bolster their basic skills.”

Public school closures during the COVID pandemic, and the subsequent student transfers to nonpublic schools that remained open, exacerbated an already-dire deficit with the number of services increasing from 40,760 to 45,466. Said the NJCC, “Necessary adjustments for the loss of funding over the [pandemic] freeze include an increase in class size, reducing the number of minutes per week offered for each service, and eliminating services prior to the end of the school year.”

Catholic schools in the Diocese of Trenton will receive information through their principals’ connection newsletter and the schools’ legislative action committees, said Dr. Vincent de Paul Schmidt, superintendent for Catholic schools. He, too, recommended parents make their voices heard on the important role Catholic schools play.

“The notion of ‘choice’ in schools for children is not just a parent concern, but that of all citizens of the state of New Jersey,” Dr. Schmidt said. “All people living in the state should benefit from programmatic support provided by the state. To exclude one student in favor of another, merely because they need or choose to attend a school that better serves their educational needs, is fundamentally bad for all. If the state excludes equal funding for children, especially as it relates to the best fit for their educational needs, it could be a signal to the direction the state might go on other pertinent issues.”

Dr. George V. Corwell, NJCC director of the Office of Education, urged all concerned citizens, not just parents of schoolchildren, to become advocates for these students.

“Children in Catholic schools are a major part of the Church’s future,” Dr. Corwell said. “Catholic schools maintain the Church’s perspective daily.” To those who think that the budgetary cuts might not apply to them if they do not have children in Catholic schools, he said, “They probably have friends, relatives and neighbors who do.”

Sister Rose concurred, saying, “We are asking that parishioners who may no longer have children in our schools, but believe in the value and mission of Catholic education, also contact the governor.”

Noting the budget likely will be announced around mid-February, she added, “It is crucial that he [Gov. Murphy] be contacted now by as many … as possible. We need to remember that there is strength in numbers, and we can accomplish much by working together with one voice as voters in the state of New Jersey.”

After Gov. Murphy announces the 2023-2024 Fiscal Year Budget, legislators will convene to discuss it over the next few months before their vote; a final draft must be signed by Gov. Murphy by July 1, the start of the fiscal year. To call, write or email Gov. Murphy, visit