The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2003 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
A controversial clampdown on the growth of administrative spending in school districts dominated the debate on education issues in the Garden State’s 2004 legislative session.
At the urging of then-Gov. James E. McGreevey, the legislature enacted a measure that caps the allowable annual increase in local school district budgets at 2.5 percent or the cost of living, whichever is higher. It had been 3 percent. The law also forces districts to reduce their budget surpluses from 6 percent to 3 percent of their general-fund balance.
The state’s $28 billion fiscal 2005 budget includes $8.9 billion for precollegiate education, up from $8.1 billion in fiscal 2004, or an increase of 9 percent.
About $10 million was earmarked for a new scholarship program, NJ STARS, which covers tuition and fees for two years at state community colleges for students who graduate in the top 20 percent of their classes. The budget included $15 million for a new public-private partnership that gives grants to nonprofit groups to operate after-school programs that include academic enrichment.
One of Gov. McGreevey’s priorities, reducing local property taxes, resulted in the formation of a task force that was expected to recommend that a constitutional convention be held in 2006 to assess how to reduce reliance on property taxes in paying for state services, including education. The legislature and voters would have to consent before any such convention is held.
Gov. McGreevey resigned in November. Senate President Richard J. Codey, a fellow Democrat, is serving out the rest of his term, which runs until January 2006.
The state legislature begins the second year of its two-year session this month.
A version of this article appeared in the January 05, 2005 edition of Education Week