Last July, New Jersey Governor Christine Whitman signed a historical bill into
law. The state's Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act - the
largest public works project in the history of New Jersey - allows the state
to borrow $8.6 billion for school repairs, additions, and new facilities.
Of that amount, $6 billion will go toward projects in the 30 special-needs
(Abbott) districts; $2.5 billion for non-Abbott projects; and $100 million for
county vocational schools. The bill will provide state funding - in the form
of cash grants or annual state aid - to cover a minimum of 40 percent of eligible
construction costs in non-special-needs districts. By court order, the state
will fully fund all eligible construction costs in the 30 special-needs districts.
The law also stresses planning, accountability, and educational adequacy, requiring
any school district applying for state construction funding to submit a five-year
plan to the state Department of Education by Dec. 15, 2001. The plan must describe
how the district will address its facilities needs; its projected growth in
enrollment; and the issues of health, safety, and educational requirements.
According to the New Jersey School Boards Association, the bill has already
spurred construction fever among school districts. After enactment of the bill,
54 construction proposals appeared on the ballot statewide, compared to 35 in
the first six months of 2000. Voter approval rates also increased, with 80.9
percent of the proposals on the ballot after July gaining approval. Additionally,
the dollar amount of construction approved by voters nearly doubled - to $684.11
million - in the six months following the enactment of the bill.
In the 10 months since the Educational Facilities and Construction Financing
Act was signed into law, the Department of Education has approved school construction
plans totaling more than $7.3 billion for 29 Abbott school districts. In addition
to Camden, New Brunswick, and Pleasantville, approvals have been granted for:
Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Trenton, Keansburg, Bridgeton, Harrison, Burlington
City, Hoboken, Perth Amboy, Long Branch, Irvington, Plainfield, Vineland, Phillipsburg,
Millville, Neptune, Orange, Pemberton, Garfield, West New York, East Orange,
Asbury Park, Passaic, Elizabeth, and Union City.