OCEAN TOWNSHIP - Senator Vin Gopal, Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling, and Assemblywoman Joann Downey announced an additional $55 million in extraordinary special education funding on Sunday following Governor Murphy’s signing of the state budget. The #EveryKidCounts campaign, an initiative developed by Gopal, Houghtaling, and Downey, lauded the new funds, pointing to an outpouring of support from concerned parents and local taxpayers across New Jersey.
“We’re tremendously glad to see the State Legislature finally devoting the necessary resources to help schools afford the incredibly high costs of special education,” said Downey (D-Freehold). “I’ve got two girls of my own in elementary school, and I know what it means to fight as a parent to see your kids succeed. With this critical funding, we can finally keep our promises and give each student - with special needs or not - the quality education that they rightfully deserve.”
Common expenses for special education programs, including personal aides, custom learning resources, and renovated classrooms can create mounting crises for cash-strapped school districts. Under current law, schools are meant to qualify for extraordinary special education aid if they spend more than a certain amount on educating a student with special needs.
A public school is eligible if it spends more than $40,000 on a single student’s education - approximately twice the average per-student cost statewide - and can theoretically qualify for up to 90 percent reimbursement of its costs.
“There’s one problem - this lifeline has never been funded at more than 80 percent,” added Downey (D-Freehold), who oversees issues relevant to residents with physical, intellectual, and developmental disabilities as Chair of the Assembly Human Services Committee. “Since 2012, that amount plummeted to around 50 percent. That was unsustainable.”
That’s why Gopal, Houghtaling, and Downey kickstarted #EveryKidCounts to call for a much-needed increase. Now, the legislators are highlighting the support of more than 500 residents across New Jersey who signed onto the campaign for raising awareness of the issue and solidifying its inclusion in the budget.
“When you get right down to it, this wouldn’t have been possible without the help of hundreds of people who came together, spread the word, and told legislative leadership that they needed this funding in the final budget,” said Houghtaling (D-Neptune). “Thanks to the voices of folks from towns like Tinton Falls, Ocean Township, and Eatontown, we’ve seen an outpouring of public support that’s really raised the standard for this issue and helped us fight hard to see it through.”
With this $55 million dollars of additional funding, Gopal, Houghtaling and Downey believe that the State can come much closer to fully meeting its commitments, which means more help for schools in need.