CLOSE staff writers Charlie Stile and Ashley Balcerzak discuss the revised budget Gov. Murphy unveiled Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020.

School districts that plan to reopen their classrooms this year can draw on a $100 million pot of cash to help keep their students safe from coronavirus, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Wednesday.

The money comes from the state’s slice of federal stimulus funds, of which another $60 million will help bridge the digital divide for students who can’t effectively learn remotely because of technical challenges. Murphy announced the funding from the football field at Somerville High School, one day after taking the field at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium to announce his budget proposal for the shortened fiscal year that begins in October.

“These are not just wise investments in our community, they are absolutely necessary investments in our future,” Murphy said from the end zone at Somerville. “We know when we invest in education that investment pays off, big time, throughout the life of a child.” 

Overall state aid to K-12 school districts for the upcoming school year remains steady under the $32.4 billion budget proposed by Murphy. Still, many districts will see fluctuations in funds under the plan known as S-2 and as the federal stimulus dollars funnel down to help defend against coronavirus.

See your district’s latest state aid figures in the chart at the end of this story.

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The governor’s plan to keep the state afloat through June 2021 includes $8.68 billion distributed via the school funding formula, S-2. The money continues the phase-in of S-2, which became law in 2018 and shifted money among school districts based on enrollment. That means some districts that had been receiving less money in recent years will continue to see declines, while others that had been underfunded will get boosts. 

According to state aid figures that were updated in July, Jersey City is the hardest hit, with a $55 million year-over-year cut. Nearly all districts in Bergen and Passaic counties will see increases. About half the districts in Monmouth County will see funding decreases compared to last year, and the majority of Ocean County’s 29 districts will also get less state aid.

Further complicating the school funding picture this year: Before coronavirus tanked state revenues, Murphy planned in February to spend an extra $336 million on schools, which would have benefited about 375 districts across the state. But in May the governor pulled back that proposal, meaning those districts had to count on less funding. 

Districts around the state have already begun their budgeting process, a particular challenge this year as they also develop plans to keep children safe from the continued threat of coronavirus. Many districts have opted to start remotely, while others face increased costs, and the logistical challenges, of bringing kids back into classrooms.

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Jersey Shore: Here’s a list of current reopening plans for Monmouth, Ocean County schools

To help, schools will get a boost from $160 million in federal coronavirus stimulus funds. Of that about $60 million will help combat the digital divide, when students don’t have technology or internet access required to learn remotely. The state’s latest estimates were that 230,000 children did not have the ability to learn from home, up from about 89,000 in May. 

Recognizing that the upcoming year in many cases means more children home during the day, whether they are learning remotely or on an alternating in-classroom schedule, Murphy has also set aside $250 million in federal funds to support the about 6,000 child care centers in the state.

Some of that money will include subsidies for working families to access child care,  according to the budget summary released this week.

Stacey Barchenger is a reporter in the New Jersey Statehouse. For unlimited access to her work covering New Jersey’s lawmakers and political power structure, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @sbarchenger 

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