By EmmaLee Italia | Contributing Editor
The New Jersey Catholic Conference and the New Jersey Network of Catholic School Families are urging voters to contact their legislators about the needs of nonpublic schools in the 2019-2020 Fiscal Year budget.
The advocacy groups are asking for an increase in three specific areas of education funding: school transportation, nursing services and compensatory education (Chapter 192 – remediation services for math, language arts and reading). Legislators will discuss the budget, issued March 5, over the upcoming months before voting on a final draft that must be signed by Gov. Phil Murphy no later than July 1.
Regarding transportation, NJCC and NJNCSF representatives are proposing an increase from $1,000 per pupil to $1,040.
“Transportation is the lifeblood of our schools,” the NJCC, the public policy arm of the Catholic bishops of New Jersey, stated in a collection of talking points issued in an Action Alert notice. “Many times when children cannot get a ride, their parents cannot get them to school, and they will transfer to public school at greater expense to the taxpayer.”
The NJCC made the point that no public school student is ever denied a ride to school because of transportation costs.
“The Office of Legislative Services has determined that if the consumer price index increases were followed for transportation, the cost per pupil would be $1,040,” said Dr. George Corwell, director of the NJCC office of education. “That doesn’t mean that it’s going to get all the kids rides, which is what our goal would be.”
Referring to the talking points, Dr. Corwell pointed out that Catholic schools are at the mercy of private bus contractors, who can choose their own price; these contractors currently serve more than 85 percent of nonpublic school routes.
In addition, nursing services have only risen minimally, from $60 per pupil in 1991-92, to $97 per pupil by the 2018-19 school year.
According to the NJCC, increasing that amount to $125 per pupil would help cover the increased costs in the salaries of nurses, the cost of requirements imposed by the Legislature and the need to have a full-time nurse in every school.
“The role of the school nurse has changed as the needs of our society have changed,” said Frances Koukotas, director of the New Jersey Network of Catholic Families in the Diocese of Trenton. “The school nurse is now for many students the point of contact for health care – working with both the physical and emotional issues of students; underserved populations; sports-related requirements; the increasing risks associated with food allergies and drug-related concerns.”
In terms of compensatory education, the NJCC and NJNCSF are asking for an increase from $995.33 to $1,100 per service per year. The amount refers to a budgetary language used to determine services per pupil; some students may require more than one service.
“The figure [of $995.33 per service] has not been increased since the 2008-09 school year,” stated the NJCC’s talking points. “As a result of the static amount, the services have been reduced.”
Time per week per remedial service in math, language arts and reading has been reduced over the years from 45 to 25 minutes, and class sizes increased – resulting, the NJCC wrote, in reduced effectiveness.
“It is almost impossible to show significant effects in remediation with so little ‘time on task,’” the statement continued. “Our goal is to have these children remediated, and not have them serve as ‘lifers’ in the compensatory education programs.”
To contact legislators, use the NJCC Faith in Action – Voter Voice system, at www.VoterVoice.net/NJCC/Campaigns/64955/Respond
Talking points on nonpublic school funding can be accessed at https://njcatholic.org/budget-and-policy-issues.