By Vin Gopal
I was proud to see my sponsorship of $30 million in stabilization aid for districts losing funding due to declining enrollment has just been released by the state Department of Education. Six districts in our area have been awarded.
This money was appropriated in the 2023 state budget as a result of bipartisan efforts in the Legislature to correct the impact of changes in the state’s school funding formula that left many towns underfunded for years because of enrollment changes. The stabilization aid also reduces the burden on municipal taxpayers as education costs usually account for more than half of their local property taxes.
Local schools receiving additional stabilization aid included Neptune City, $450,131; Asbury Park, $678,526; Ocean Township, $1,269,450; Eatontown, $282,180; Freehold Regional, $786,600; and Monmouth Regional in Tinton Falls, $610,000. They are among 16 Monmouth County towns that felt the brunt of the controversial S2 school funding formula cuts by the state for years that are now receiving some aid to help stabilize their districts.
The good news about stabilization aid comes on the heels of the state announcing Transit Grants of $55,000 for Asbury Park, $243,000 for Red Bank, and $774,000 for Long Branch to improve the safety and accessibility of their public transportation.
As we work in the Senate to make our state more affordable for all residents, another piece of legislation that would make New Jersey more affordable is progressing through Senate committees and would bring some good news for first-time homebuyers. Inflation and high home prices have made it more difficult for lower and moderate income individuals, especially first-time homebuyers. My legislation, sponsored with Senator Troy Singleton, would support first-time homeowners by creating the First-Time Home Buyer Savings Accounts program.
First-Time Home Buyer Savings Accounts would provide gross income tax benefits for certain contributions and earnings on assets maintained in accounts established under the program. This would encourage healthy financial decisions for new homeowners. The legislation was reported out of the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee last week and referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
These budget appropriations and the First-Time Homebuyer Savings Accounts are steps on our path to making New Jersey fairer and more affordable for all residents. Those are goals worth striving for anytime but especially during the week we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr., who was a powerful voice for compassion and fairness.
Last Friday, I attended the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County 34th Annual MLK Commemorative Breakfast and was honored with the YMCA Social Responsibility Award. Later that day I read a news article about a just-released Monmouth University poll with the headline “N.J. residents less optimistic about hopes for full racial equity, poll shows”. The poll found 27 percent of New Jersey residents polled believe they will see racial equality in their lifetime while 43 percent said they will not. That result is the opposite of what respondents said in the same poll ten years ago when 42 percent already believed the equal treatment of Blacks and whites was a reality and 26 percent did not.
That reversal is disheartening. But the article made me think of a famous line King wrote while under arrest in the Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Let’s pay tribute to Rev. King throughout the year by showing compassion and kindness to each other and striving for fairness in all that we do.