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Assembly Committee Advances Legislation to Modernize Public School Construction Process

Coughlin, Lampitt, Karabinchak & Wimberly Bill Also Creates a New Loan Program to Help Maintain Non-Traditional Public Schools

The Assembly Appropriations Committee yesterday advanced legislation to update School Development Authority (SDA) operations and funding mechanisms to get critical school construction projects off the ground. Bill A4496, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin, Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt and Assemblymen Robert Karabinchak and Benjie Wimberley makes various changes to the way that school construction can be funded in New Jersey. It also establishes a new low-interest loan program through the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) to fund capital projects of existing or future charter and renaissance school buildings in the state’s 31 SDA districts.

New Jersey is home to approximately 1.35 million students across nearly 600 school districts, 85 charter schools, and three renaissance schools, each of which deserves a best-in-the-nation education in a top-notch learning facility. The aging infrastructure of the state’s school facilities is a top concern of lawmakers in Trenton. The bill will ensure students have safe and functional facilities in which they can excel.

“In New Jersey, we are exceedingly proud of our public education system, and we want to make sure all students have access to the resources they need to succeed in the classroom,” said Speaker Craig J. Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “However, in some instances, students are sitting in classrooms incapable or too overcrowded to accommodate their class size in buildings that desperately need renovations. A student’s learning environment plays a significant role in their education, and we must act to maximize the efficiency of our school construction dollars and modernize the SDA.”

Speaker Coughlin further noted that this bill sits at the intersection of three of the Assembly Democratic Caucus’s priorities: education, affordability, and efficiency.

“New Jersey students receive among the best in the nation in classroom education, but in far too many cases the school facilities themselves are simply not up to the task,” said Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden, Burlington), Chair of the Assembly Education Committee. “This bill is about helping our districts provide buildings and facilities that match the quality of education provided within. It is also about making sure the dollars we are spending on these construction projects are used as efficiently as possible – particularly given the need, the massive backlog and the other obstacles to learning that our students have faced over the last few years.”

In order to ensure school districts have the funding they need to create greater equity across all public schools, the bill would also establish a “Charter and Renaissance School Project Facilities Loan Program” within the NJEDA as a way for SDA’s 31 districts to obtain access low-interest funding. The money would be available to make critical upgrades to school facilities, start new construction projects, or perform major renovation and rehabilitation projects.

“We have made it a priority to deliver a quality education to every student in New Jersey while protecting taxpayers with procurement safeguards,” said Assemblyman Robert Karabinchak (D-Middlesex). “This is about more than just ensuring our students have a suitable learning space, it’s about addressing potential risks to health and safety while creating a new avenue to fund the upkeep of our school facilities.”

“In Paterson, we have at least 17 schools that are more than a century old. We have seen the positive impact the SDA has had in our community; however, we must streamline the process to fund and complete pivotal school construction projects for our students’ best interest,” said Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic). “This legislation will help ensure all students in New Jersey have access to a safe school environment.”

The bill would require all school districts to include capital improvement plans in their long-range facilities planning, establish new tools for non-SDA district schools to initiate school construction projects and taxpayer and work protections to ensure only qualified contractors perform school construction projects. Additionally, it takes several steps to modernize the SDA, adding two members appointed by the legislature and as well as an additional public member appointed by the Governor.

The committee advanced the bill 7-1.