PERTH AMBOY – Last week, Assemblyman Joseph Vas unveiled legislation he drafted that would jumpstart stalled school construction projects in the state’s former Abbott districts by allowing school officials to sell bonds to finance a project in exchange for state debt service aid.
Vas said the bill would put the former Abbott districts on par with other school districts across the state that have independently bond-financed their own school construction projects.
“New Jersey’s goal of breaking down the barriers that have existed between urban and suburban districts and viewing all schools as equals must be extended to all areas of education, including school construction,” said Vas (D-Middlesex). “Students and teachers need modern, well-equipped classrooms. They should not be required to wait for the state to come up with all of the money to build schools when viable, locally grown funding could be made available.”
Under a 2000 state law, $8.6 billion worth of bonds issued by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority were used to finance the state’s share of school construction projects. Once that money was depleted, projects in the former Abbott districts – which were totally dependant on funding from the former Schools Construction Corporation (SCC) – ground to a halt. However, projects in other districts have continued, since those projects were self-funded with the state providing debt service aid to cover the locally issued bonds sold to finance construction.
Last year, the Legislature dissolved the SCC, creating a Schools Development Authority (SDA) to assume the task of building new school facilities. That law did not include any funding to restart the stalled projects in the former Abbott districts. Governor Jon Corzine recently indicated that his administration would seek up to $2.5 billion in new bonds to fund the construction program, though there is no set timetable for the proposal.
Vas’ proposal would give the former Abbott districts the explicit authority to immediately determine which school facilities projects should proceed, issue bonds for the total cost, and then receive state debt service aid on the final eligible cost of the project.
The measure mirrors the financial flexibility already extended to suburban school districts that have undertaken their own construction projects.
“Urban schoolchildren should not continue to sit in dilapidated classrooms waiting for funding that may never arrive,” said Vas. “Local school officials need the flexibility to seek funding that can get the shovels back into the ground.”
Vas said he will formally introduce the bill when the Assembly returns in May.
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