Security Funding for Religious and Private Schools Doubled in New Jersey
By Maddie Hanna
New Jersey private schools will get a boost in funding for security measures under a law signed by Gov. Murphy.
The legislation, which Murphy signed Tuesday at a yeshiva in Passaic, adds $11.3 million for security at nonpublic schools 2019-- doubling their level of state security funding from $75 to $150 per student.
"Our administration is tasked with the vital responsibility of ensuring the safety and security of all New Jerseyans,” Murphy said in a statement. The Democratic governor also signed legislation Tuesday allowing houses of worship and community centers to seek state grants for certain security measures.
Proponents said the increase -- which comes after voters in November approved $500 million in added school funding, including for public-school security -- would enable private schools to take steps such as hiring security guards and installing cameras.
“New Jersey as a state has an obligation to all of its children, wherever they go to school, to ensure their safety and well being,” said Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D., Passaic), who sponsored the bill. He said private schools previously needed more security funding, but did even more so now, because “anti-religious terrorism has unfortunately dramatically increased." He cited increases in anti-Semitic incidents tracked by the Anti-Defamation League and the October shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, among other events.
While advocates have been pushing for a funding increase for several years, “the incident in Pittsburgh probably ... put this on minds of leadership in Trenton,” said Dan Mitzner, director of state political affairs at Teach NJ, a group representing yeshivas and day schools around the state.
The law will increase security funding to $150 per pupil at private schools, after public school security funding was raised this year to $205 per pupil, Schaer said. “We’re playing catch up," he said.
The bill passed both houses of the Democratic-controlled Legislature unanimously in December. It drew criticism from the Education Law Center, which said lawmakers hadn’t demonstrated a need for the increase.
“Put simply, there is no basis for the legislature to divert even more public funds to private schools when there is no documented need for such funding, and, even worse, when the State is unable to fulfill its constitutional obligation to fund a thorough and efficient education for all public school students,” David Sciarra, the law center’s executive director, said in a statement urging Murphy to veto the bill.
Sciarra said some schools hadn’t used the existing money, citing state Department of Education data that at least $832,000 in private school security appropriations went unspent in fiscal year 2017.
Schaer said that some schools “I’m sure have not taken full advantage of the funds available. That’s pretty much the case in all things that state government does.” He said public schools would not be harmed by the bill because the added money would come from the general fund, rather than existing education dollars.
“One really has nothing to do with the other,” Schaer said.