Local campaign helps to boost special education funding $65M

By Neil Schulman

Long Branch — City resident Anita Claverling and Councilwoman Dr. Anita Voogt are urging people to support the Every Kid Counts program, which would provide more state funding for special education. It seems their voices and those of many others are being heard.

On Sunday, local state Senator Vin Gopal, Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling, and Assemblywoman Joann Downey announced an additional $65 million in extraordinary special education funding following Governor Murphy’s signing of the state budget, calling it a major step in the right direction.

Claverling spoke at the June 26 City Council meeting, saying that at a recent Coffee with the Mayor event Dr. Voogt had told her she would discuss the program.

School districts around New Jersey are being “squeezed by the state” when it came to funding for special education, Claverling said.

Voogt also endorsed the program, calling it a “very important opportunity,” and urging people to go the www.everykidcountsnj.com to sign a petition

According to the Every Kid Counts website, supported by local state Senator Vin Gopal and Assembly members Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey, the state devotes only $195 million a year to students with extraordinary aid, while estimates say it would cost almost twice that much to fully fund it, $380 million.

The state is supposed to help districts when the cost of education for a student exceeds $40,000 a year. That’s about twice the average cost of educating a student.

“There’s one problem – this lifeline has never been funded at more than 80 percent,” said Downey. “Since 2012, that amount plummeted to around 50 percent. That was unsustainable.”

Downey said she oversees issues relevant to residents with physical, intellectual, and developmental disabilities as Chair of the Assembly Human Services Committee.

“Today’s special education funding deal is an enormous victory for schoolchildren and taxpayers,” said Sen. Gopal, Long Branch, on Sunday. “We’re well on our way to full state funding of extraordinary special education spending. Leaders in local education should be incentivized to provide the best possible special education program they can, not fear the cost increases that can come with a successful school when in-need students move to town.”

Gopal, Houghtaling, and Downey kickstarted Every Kid Counts to draw attention to the funding gap. They say that it was due to support of local residents that Murphy approved the extra aid.

“Thanks to the voices of folks from towns like Tinton Falls, Ocean Township, and Eatontown, we’ve seen an outpouring of public support that’s really raised the standard for this issue and helped us fight hard to see it through,” Houghtaling said.