Sharper focus on education, more equitable funding sought in N.J.

Cecilia Zalkind (left) and former New Jersey Chief Justice Deborah Poritz call for changes in the state's educational funding practice. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Cecilia Zalkind (left) and former New Jersey Chief Justice Deborah Poritz call for changes in the state's educational funding practice. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

New Jersey must act quickly to provide a high-quality public education for all children, warned a nonprofit foundation that works to improve the state’s public policy decisions.

Former state Chief Justice Deborah Poritz, who chairs the Fund for New Jersey, said it’s time for the state to give the school districts what they are were promised under the 2008 School Funding Reform Act.

“We need to fully fund SFRA under the formula, not in any transition mode anymore, not with transition funding, but fully fund it,” she said.

The foundation also urges expanding preschool to 109 high-poverty districts by 2022.

That would cost an estimated $600 million, said Cecilia Zalkind, the director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

“That price tag may seem daunting, but high quality preschool is sound long-term investment for the state, an important support for disadvantaged children, and a key element of education reform,” she said.

Children who attend high-quality preschool are better prepared for kindergarten, develop stronger social emotional skills, and are more likely to graduate from high school, Zalkind said.

The Fund for New Jersey also recommends the state invest more in colleges to increase the number of those earning degrees needed for the good jobs of the future. And it’s calling for strategies to improve college completion rates.

With all the funding obligations the state has, little money is left for improvements in education, transportation, and the environment that residents want to ensure New Jersey is a good place to live, Poritz said..

“If you want them, then you had better be prepared to take some pain, to look at the fiscal report and say, ‘I might want to tax myself because these values are so important to me,’” she said.

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