Yesterday Governor Phil Murphy gave a coronavirus press conference and made several references to school openings. If you recall (if not, click here), on Monday Murphy announced that, contrary to the guidance issued by the state Department of Education, all New Jersey parents will have the option of keeping their children home for the entire 2020-2021 school year, with access to remote instruction from their district. Since then, the state education community has been waiting for information. On Monday Murphy promised that he would fill in the gaps “this week,” so he hits his self-designated deadline tomorrow.
Here are the school-related questions and answers from yesterday’s presser. (Full transcript here.) For context, the Governor begins by discussing the state’s current fiscal morass: By next June New Jersey will have a budget hole of $9.9 billion even though “we have slashed planned spending to enact an austere stopgap budget and we dipped into the rainy day fund just to get us through the next two months.” Also, Senator Mitch McConnell’s proposed stimulus bill would give NJ “zero flexibility with any new funding to come” which is a “slap in the face of every governor across the country, Republican and Democrat.” The CORES Act $2.4 billion we received was “a drop in the bucket compared to our needs.”
Gov. Murphy: “School funding is especially critical, because we cannot fully support our districts in their plans for the upcoming school year without help from Washington. We are staring directly at a $1 billion cut in aid to our public schools, and will have to further cut operating aid to our struggling colleges and universities which, by the way, have already cut by nearly $200 million.”
Brent Johnson, Star-Ledger: “Where is the $1 billion budget shortage for schools coming from? Why didn’t you borrow more money to protect children that have missed school, instead of asking for the federal government to supply it? So why didn’t you ask for $11 billion?”
Gov. Murphy: “Schools, $1 billion, ask for more money. At a certain point, as desperate as we are, we can only bear so much leverage. And so we’ve said right from the get-go, this is not either/or it is and/both. We need the ability to borrow up to that number of $9.9 billion and we need federal help, and we need to consider revenues. So it is not as though we are, you know, that we don’t have an unlimited ability to borrow. You have to service that borrowing, you’ve got to pay interest, you’ve got to pay it back, and we’ll do everything we can to get the schools the money. But the point is we need both borrowing and the federal money.”
Dustin Racioppi, Bergen Record: “And then specifically for the Governor, the announcement you made Monday on the guidance for parents for virtual learning, in response to the NJEA saying schools won’t be ready to open in the fall, and if there’s still a supply issue with PPE, will the state be able to help districts get the equipment they need to reopen? Thanks.”
Gov. Murphy: “And yes, we are working with both counties and districts on PPE, but we’re not there yet but we are working on that. And we’ve said from every time we’ve been asked, we’ve come a long way. Judy [Commissioner of Health Judith Persichilli] talked about the tens of millions of PPE that’s been distributed in long-term care, but we’re still not where we need to be. But certainly, as part of the district plans, as part of the approval of those plans, both from the Department of Education and the Department of Health, we are clearly focused on that.”