Senate President Steve Sweeney took a couple of victory laps on Tuesday, celebrating the passage of his school funding formula by touring two schools that will see considerable bumps to the amount of state funds they receive.
“It’s actually a great feeling because we’re starting to balance the scale again, and getting to a point where we treat all kids equally,” Sweeney said when asked about how he felt about his long-sought changes to the funding formula finally coming to fruition. “So, that’s a good feeling.”
Sweeney first toured Freehold’s Park Avenue Elementary School with Sen. Vin Gopal. He later joined Sen. Linda Greenstein for a touch of Robbinsville’s Sharon Elementary School.
The former school received a significant bump to its state aid – a increase of more than $3.1 million that brought its total state aid received to close to $14 million. The new funding allowed to school to hire 16 new teachers, Sweeney said.
Gopal applauded the rule as well, placing emphasis on the changes he had already seen in the school, which is currently undergoing construction.
“When I first came here a few years ago, classrooms were separated by cardboard boxes. it was awful, so where we are today thanks to the senate president’s leadership, he made school funding a singular issue in this year’s budget,” Gopal said. “This is going to help so many kids and so many parents in this area that far too long were losing hope, and finally there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
The appearance at Sweeney’s side is a well-earned one for Gopal. He recently held a fundraiser that pulled in more than $50,000 for the Senate Democratic Majority PAC, earning some stripes as a freshman senator that will held ingratiate him to his senior colleagues.
Still, not all parties are happy about the new changes. Some schools, particularly those in Jersey City, had received large sums of cash for students they did not have under the previous formula.
Sweeney said that 70% of the schools in the state were underfunded, while the remaining schools were properly funded or overfunded.
Some of those overfunded schools have been vocal about their Upcoming funding cuts, which Sweeney said were well telegraphed
“One school district that was complaining about loss of funding, I found out had eight kids in elementary classrooms, per classroom, and seven in high school,” Sweeney said. “So, I said come on. I got 30 kids in a classroom here. Where’s the fairness?”
Jersey City is angling to sue the state to get the funding changes reversed, but that threat isn’t doing much to dampen Sweeney’s spirits or cut his victory run short.
“I’m not worried about it because we’re following the formula,” he said.