NEW JERSEY – Senator Joe Pennacchio Tuesday called for the Murphy Administration to commit a fraction of the $7 billion in unexpected revenue to fully fund extraordinary special education in State schools.
“It is time to make the commitment. Invest in our most vulnerable children, pay every dime needed to do what is best for their educations and their futures,” said Pennacchio (R-26). “For years, the Administration has tried to get away with doing the minimum, letting the school districts sort it out. That approach has hurt the children with special needs and led to school budget nightmares and higher property taxes.”
A staunch advocate of special education reform shifting the fiscal responsibility from local taxpayers to the state, Pennacchio said fully funding extraordinary aid is long overdue.
“These special kids belong to all of us, and all of us should take that responsibility to heart,” Pennacchio said. “Now, when the state is flush with money that not even the most optimistic projections anticipated, we are in position to solve the special education dilemma going forward. This should be a top priority. It will require only a fraction of the windfall money, and the benefits will be significant.”
Pennacchio explained that the annual cost for some special needs children can exceed $100,000 per student for extensive services and one-on-one care. When the cost for an individual child exceeds $40,000, extraordinary aid is available to districts.
Often a school district can become a magnet for special education students because of its reputation for providing high level services for children with autism, for example.
“Unfortunately, some schools can actually suffer because they are doing such a good job with high needs students,” Pennacchio said. “District budgets are unable to sustain the added expenses, resulting in cuts, layoffs, and other problems.
“It is obvious why this must be a state priority, not a local responsibility,” Pennacchio said.
Last July, Pennacchio, working closely with then-Senate President Steve Sweeney, helped strike a bipartisan deal with the Administration that increased the state’s contribution to extraordinary special education costs to 90 percent of the projected $400 million actual cost, up from 55 percent.
“That was a big step in the right direction, but 90 percent is not enough,” Pennacchio said. “We’re looking for 100 percent, and there is no excuse in the world why the Administration cannot make that happen when they are sitting on a pile of billions of dollars.
“This is excess tax revenue. Let’s take care of the special education funding gap, then give the rest back to the taxpayers,” Pennacchio said.