By Christina Leslie | Staff Writer
Parents, students and all those who appreciate the value of a Catholic education are urged to take action to prevent drastic cuts in the fiscal year 2017 N.J. State Budget being considered now. Funding to essential nonpublic school programs, such as technology, nursing services, school transportation and security is being threatened, and concerned citizens need to educate themselves on the proposed budget cuts and advocate for their repeal.
The New Jersey Catholic Conference and the New Jersey Network of Catholic School Families has issued an Action Alert to all those concerned with essential nonpublic school education in the state. Governor Chris Christie’s budget for fiscal year 2017 contained a 6.8 percent funding cut in nonpublic school programs, as follows:
-- Nonpublic technology aid: FY2016 budget allotted $3.951 million, FY2017 budget allots $3.0 million;
-- Nonpublic nursing services: FY2016 budget allotted $13.451 million, FY2017 budget allots $12.902 million;
-- Nonpublic security aid (new line item in 2016): FY2016 budget allotted $3.75 million, FY2017 budget eliminates it entirely.
Additionally, the per-pupil amount for nonpublic school transportation remained frozen at $884 per pupil. This amount has not changed in nine years.
Dr. George Corwell, N.J. Catholic Conference’s Director of the Office of Education, noted, “It appears that most, if not all, public school programs received an increase, but the nonpublic programs were decreased 6.8 percent.”
Frances Koukotas, diocesan director of the N.J. Network of Catholic School Families, is rallying Catholic education supporters to let the legislators know these cuts are a detriment to students, teachers, staff, parents: anyone who values Catholic education.
“In our current world climate, security is a priority for all schools,” Koukotas said. “Last year, it was a good start to have the security aid for schools. It was a jumping-off point. We felt it would be included this year as well.”
Koukotas is mounting a letter-writing campaign involving all Catholic schools of the Diocese. She is asking all those in the Catholic school community to contact senators and/or assemblypersons concerning the inequality and the impact that reduced technology, nursing and security aid would have upon the day-to-day operations of the institutions of learning, she said.
Concerned citizens can stress the importance of faith-based schooling for today’s youth. Alumni associations of Catholic schools also should let their voices be heard, Koukotas said.
“Getting alumni on board would mean a lot,” she noted. “They would want to have the faith-based education they experienced be ensured for the next generation.”
The New Jersey Catholic Conference and the New Jersey Network of Catholic School Families have posted a number of downloadable fact sheets to further educate concerned citizens and acquaint them with the topics their legislators should weigh when considering the budget. Links to fact sheets discussing nonpublic school nursing services, school security aid and technology are available on the dioceseoftrenton.org website.
The Action Alert also suggests concerned citizens take five steps to keep the issue of nonpublic school accounts foremost in the minds of the assemblypersons and senators:
-- Phone, email, or meet with the members of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and Assembly Budget Committee with regard to the concerns that citizens have with the budget. Note that the Chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee, Assemblyman Gary Schaer, has been particularly sympathetic to the cause of nonpublic parents and students.
-- If area legislators are not members of the Budget Committee, citizens should phone, email, or meet with them and ask them to relay concerns to their colleagues on the appropriate budget committee.
-- Those citizens who have had transportation problems in the last several years should explain, in detail, how nonpublic transportation was affected in their district to their respective senator and members of the assembly.
-- Citizens are urged to consult the fact sheets to explain the issue to legislators, particularly if they require more background information on the topic, and
-- Remind any legislators that increases for nonpublic school funding does NOT take away funding for public school students.
A listing of all area assemblypersons and senators, with the schools they represent, is available by clicking here.
Citizens may also use the N.J. Catholic Conference Faith in Action – Voter Voice system found on the diocesan website at dioceseoftrenton.org, then clicking on “Catholic Advocacy Network Alerts” or www.votervoice.net/NJCC/Campaigns/45557/Respond.
Koukotas recommended contacting the legislators a number of times between now and the end of June. Legislators on the budget committee will submit budget modification requests prior to the passage of the appropriations act for Fiscal Year 2017, and the N.J. State budget must be approved by July 1.Dr. Corwell said, “The key is to come back at them again and again, keep up the drumbeat. In addition to the Voter Voice system, just call or email the Governor’s office. Even if he is not there, those calls are logged.”
Governor Chris Christie may be contacted at [email protected], or 609-292-6000.[[In-content Ad]]