Nonpublic school security funding frozen in proposed budget
By EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent
The New Jersey Catholic Conference, the New Jersey Network of Catholic Families and a Catholic school fifth-grader are among the voices fighting to keep nonpublic school students safe across New Jersey.
“The nonpublic school community is far from immune from security threats,” said Patrick Brannigan, NJCC executive director, testifying April 9 before a joint meeting of the State Assembly and Senate education committees. “The proposed Fiscal Year 2019 Budget increases public school security aid by over $265 million. At the same time, nonpublic security aid is frozen at last year’s level.
“Our nonpublic school children are as important and loved as their public school counterparts,” Brannigan elaborated. “The State should provide as much security for nonpublic school students as they do for public school students.”
Representing Catholic schools in the Trenton Diocese, NJNCF diocesan director Frances Koukotas also testified April 9, expressing the pressing need for security funding for Catholic schools.
“The point of my testimony was that parents want their children to be as safe in their [Catholic] schools as they would in any school,” Koukotas said. “If security funding is not increased [in the proposed budget], then at least we don’t want it decreased.”
The meeting, held at Camden County Community College, brought committee members together with nonpublic school representatives from various districts and police chiefs. School security meetings also took place that same day at the State House, attended by representatives from the New Jersey Catholic Conference and NJNCF.
During her testimony, Koukotas provided a list of approved expenditures for nonpublic schools, as well as security purchases that schools have made so far, and what security needs still exist.
“Many schools would like to have a guard in their schools; however it is cost prohibitive,” Koukotas testified. “Some of our schools have a working relationship with the local police department, and so on occasion, a local police officer, randomly timed, will walk through one of our schools.”
Assembly education committee chairwoman Pamela R. Lampitt (D-6) asked those in attendance to speak “from the heart” regarding security funding concerns. Heeding that call was 11-year-old Candace Beverly, a fifth-grade student in Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, Princeton.
“I have lived through many lockdown drills in school,” she testified. “It is scary to curl up in a ball in a small space and to try to be invisible and completely silent ... all while dealing with fears about whether the danger is real. Is it just a drill, or is there an intruder? Is there an active shooter? And if it is just a drill this time, is real-life danger lurking right around the corner?”
“Many students have faced violence in schools, and it hasn’t been a drill,” she said, citing the recent shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead. “The kids of New Jersey are counting on you to put an end to the terror and the fear.”
Public hearings are taking place until mid-May, when committees will meet privately to determine the new budget proposal to be presented to Gov. Murphy. The new budget must be signed into law by midnight June 30. The new budget goes into effect July 1.
“Anyone can go to these public hearings,” Koukotas said, encouraging anyone who supports safety in nonpublic schools to attend.