By EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent
Gov. Chris Christie has signed the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget, and for Catholic schools, desperately needed financial increases are included.
After months of petitions and requests through the New Jersey Catholic Conference – the public policy arm of the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey – and other advocates including the Network for Catholic School Families, the budget signed July 4 provides increased funding levels for nonpublic school transportation as well as nursing, technology and school security.
George V. Corwell, director of the NJCC office of education, wrote July 5 of the planned budget increases for nonpublic schools in a letter to state network directors, superintendents, leadership of the Diocese of Trenton and other agency leaders.
“This is a major victory, but we still have work to do,” Corwell said, referring to the need for nonpublic schools to make known to transportation companies their ability to bid higher for buses than in previous years, relieving a burden that had been leading to the loss of bus routes for some nonpublic schools.
He also thanked all those involved who fought for increased funding for Catholic schools, saying, “We are most grateful to the parents and other supporters of nonpublic schools who wrote to their legislators via Voter Voice, directly through emails and phone calls regarding the importance of nonpublic school accounts in the 2018 state budget.”
“We have a total of 7,662 responses through the Voter Voice,” Corwell said in his letter. “But . . . this number does not reflect the amount of work done through personal emails and telephone calls to the legislators’ offices. In effect, this effort would not have succeeded without your diligence and your hard work.”
Frances Koukotas, diocesan director of the New Jersey Network of Catholic School Families, added her thanks to the elected officials who were responsive to the calls from the public.
“This was a bipartisan effort,” she noted. “They [the legislators] worked together on the budget and hammered it out until 1 a.m. We’re really grateful.”
“I would encourage parents, students and everyone who supports Catholic schools to email or call their legislator to thank them for their support,” she said.
The following increases can be anticipated based on the budget language:
• Transportation: Increase from $884 to $1,000 per student allowable expense.
What this means: When researching transportation service for students, schools can now offer bus companies up to $1,000 per pupil for the 2017-18 academic year. The allowable amount had been frozen at $884 per pupil since 2007 – well below what it costs for most transportation options, which leads to schools facing a loss of busing, and correspondingly, loss in enrollment.
• Nursing: Estimated $94 per pupil.
What this means: This represents an increase of more than $800,000 statewide for the year. The governor’s original budget request of $12.9 million for nursing services was almost $550,000 below the 2016-17 appropriation. Restored and increased funds will help nonpublic schools better afford a nurse on staff.
• Technology: Set at $37 per student
What this means: The original budget request reduced tech funding for nonpublic schools by almost $1 million. Now not only restored, the 2017-18 statewide funding is almost $1.5 million more than the 2016-17 academic year.
• Security: Restored to $75 per pupil
What this means: Originally eliminated in the initial budget proposal, security funding was added back into the budget, exceeding the per student amount of $50 for 2016-17. Security funds are used for safety features such as classroom window locks, window darkening shades, walkie-talkies, security cameras and security doors at building entrances and additional lighting around buildings.
This victory has been hard fought every academic year for almost 10 years. Students and principals of Catholic schools met with state representatives; letters to the editor voiced concerns over the budget; NJCC Action Alert links were posted and promoted.