Closing the gaping state budget gap will be an uphill battle. Lawmakers have to find tens of millions of dollars for the insolvent fund to fix roads and pay public worker pensions. And now comes a bill that would take $110 million from the Property Tax Relief Fund and use it to expand pre-K. The bill’s co-sponsor is Assemblywoman Mila Jasey.
Williams: Thank you for being here.
Jasey: Thank you so much for having me.
Williams: Tomorrow Gov. Christie unveils his 2017 budget. Is there really room in that budget to find $110 million to expand pre-K further.
Jasey: Well you know budgets reflect priorities. I believe very strongly that we need to make the education of our children beginning with the youngest ones a priority.
Williams: But New Jersey already has one of the highest regarded pre-K programs in the country. We’re already paying some $615 million dollars to expand pre-K in AVID districts why do we need this to further?
Jasey: We need it because in 2008 we had the SFRA, the School Funding Reform Act, part of the commitment of that law was to expand pre-K to the districts that were not included in the AVID funding.
Williams: So which districts would be included in that?
Jasey: Well it would be over a hundred districts that qualify. They’re A, B or possibly CD districts that have forty percent or more students in the free and reduced lunch program.
Williams: Why pre-K? Why is it important? How does it effect the economy overall?
Jasey: Pre-K is a wonderful investment in our young people. Money spent in the early years saves us money down the road. As a superintendent in Clifton said last week, “Students coming into a kindergarten from a quality pre-K program have a vocabulary of about 5,000 words as compared to children coming in with out that, who come in with about 1,000 words.” So they come in already on uneven ground.
Williams: How exactly does this stem from the School Reform Act of 2008?
Jasey: Well the School Reform Act of 2008 recognized that about fifty percent of our children who are considered at risk, because of low socioeconomic standing or they’re English language learners or with special needs, live out side of those districts cover by the former AVID label.
Williams: Does this have bi-partisan support? I know that Speaker Prieto supports it but does it have support on the other side?
Jasey: Yes it does. Assemblywomen Betty Lou Decroce is my co-sponsor. It was very important to me that we have bi-partisan support. I don’t see education as a partisan issue at all. I think that we have to begin this conversation and start planning for the future as the budget improves.
Williams: Gov. Christie’s back in the governors office and one presumes legislation will actually get done. What are the chances of this actually getting passed?
Jasey: You’re guess is as good as mine. But we’re going to work towards it, its not going to happen over night, its going to take time. During this time we are building support through out the state in every districts across county lines.
Williams: And the $110 million would it be dis-pursed over time?
Jasey: Yes the $110 million would be to start and money that’s not spent in the first year would be carried over to the following years.
Williams: Alright, thank you very much for joining us Mila Jasey.
Jasey: Thank you very much for having me. It’s a very very important topic.