By David Matthau
As New Jersey lawmakers consider several different options to change the school funding formula, some districts are increasingly unhappy about a requirement they pay a portion of the tuition and transportation costs for students to attend vocational schools in their counties.
Funding vocational schools in New Jersey is a shared responsibility between the state, the local counties and local school districts.
Janet Bamford, a spokesperson for the New Jersey School Boards Association, said it’s not surprising there are concerns, because “school districts of course are limited by the tax levy cap, and for a number of years school districts have experienced essentially flat state aid.”
That cap restricts how much districts can increases taxes year to year.
Bamfore noted many districts “are in a situation where state funding doesn’t reflect their enrollment growth.”
“We advocate for a funding system that advances educational opportunities for all students,” Bamford said. “I certainly think it should be a consideration that legislators should look at as they look at the school funding formula.’
She also pointed out funding for some vocational schools has “in some counties been flat for the last few years so those schools have also been squeezed.”
“We need a funding system that is going to not burden either county CTE (Career Technical Education) districts or K-12 districts or high school districts,” she said.
Bamford said the Jersey School Boards Association has a task force that is studying educational options for non-college-bound students in regular as well as vocational high schools.
According to Judy Savage, the executive director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational Technical Schools, the amount of state aid provided by the state for vocational schools is based on the wealth of each county.
She said different counties will provide a certain amount of funding based on their tax levies and their ability to pay, and when the state and county aren’t fully able to cover the high cost of vocational programs, the local districts are required to pay a share of the tuition.
“I think all school districts are under financial pressure because the school funding formula has been stagnant for almost a decade and school costs for everybody have been going up,” she said.
She pointed out for years state aid hasn’t been following students attending vo-tech schools the way the school funding formula had intended.
“So getting funding back on track I think would help to address this problem, would help to reduce the reliance on payments by local districts,” she said.
She said vo-tech schools “are increasingly offering highly specialized training to our students, so they fulfill a need and take the burden off regular high schools to offer this kind of learning.”