Mon12102018

Last updateMon, 10 Dec 2018 4pm

Politics

New Jersey Approves Bond for Schools and Infrastructure in Public Question

NJ School Bonds InfrastructureA majority of New Jersey voters supported the School Projects Bond public ballot question, voting to approve the bond by more than 52 percent on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

The bond was the only question on the ballot this Election Day. The approved 500 million dollars in bonds will be used for a range of school-related initiatives such as: school security, vocational schools, county colleges and school water infrastructure.

Because the New Jersey state constitution requires that new debts obtain voter approval, the bond was placed on the public ballot.

Now that it passed, $350 million will be used to provide grants to county vocational school districts and school security projects, $50 million will go to county college projects and $100 million will go to support water infrastructure projects across the state’s more than 600 school districts.

Over the summer, the Democrat-led New Jersey State Legislature and its Democratic Governor Phil Murphy approved the bipartisan measure to get the question on the ballot.

However, there still existed disagreement over how much should be appropriated from the bonds.

Murphy halved the legislative proposal from its initial $1 billion to the current $500 million, explaining that the state already has a heavy debt load as his reason.

Debt service in the current fiscal year tops $4 billion, and New Jersey ranks in the top five states for tax-supported debt, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Murphy estimated that the total debt payments on the initial proposal would range from $1.7 billion to $2.2 billion over the next 30 years, depending on interest rates and other factors.

Republicans have consistently called for steeper spending cuts to help the state’s strained budget, but expressed frustration that Murphy halved the bond proposal, which nearly all supported.

Republican state Senator Steve Oroho said in a statement to the Associated Press last month that the smaller bond issuance won’t go far enough to address schools’ needs.

To rein in the state’s finances, he suggested overhauling the state’s public worker pension and health benefits.

Murphy has shown little interest in pursuing such reforms, which would likely entail cuts. Instead he’s called for working with organized labor to lower costs.

Question 1 required a review and approval process for each type of grant, either involving the state Commissioner of Education or Secretary of Higher Education, in consultation with various government agencies.

Both county vocational school districts and county colleges were eligible to receive career and technical education grants. Priority was to be given to schools with (a) stackable credentials programs; (b) partnerships between vocational school districts and colleges; and (c) partnerships between schools or colleges and employers to provide technical training.

To obtain career and technical education grants, the county that established the vocational school or college needed to provide 25 percent of the costs of the project.

The state Commissioner of Education, in consultation with the Schools Development Authority, was to decide the review process and criteria to receive school security grants.

Question 1 defined security projects as the construction, improvement, or modernization of a school or school district for school security purposes, such as alarms and silent security systems.

The commissioner, in consultation with the Commissioner of Environmental Protection, was to decide the review process and criteria to receive water infrastructure grants.

“I am always supportive of measures intended to increase school funding, as I feel they create pathways for greater access to diverse resources within the school,” said Catherine Harvey, a sophomore education student.

Harvey believes that with a large portion of the $500 million going to both vocational schools and school security, the scope of impact that the bond’s funding will have across communities should not be understated, she explained.

In weighing the benefits that this bond would have on education in New Jersey, Harvey said that she believes the impact of the funding should be viewed positively.

“While I understand the concern surrounding the use of bonds in establishing this funding, as loans of any kind do eventually have to be repaid, investment in education should be seen as a means of uplifting the state’s population,” she said.

To Harvey, greater measures put forth to educating the state’s populace would mean investing in their futures, creating better opportunities for students and young people, and even older citizens who might attend vocational schools or county colleges later in their careers. She says the outcomes are worth the investments from the bond.

PHOTO TAKEN from Patch.com

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