Bill A4496 Also Creates a New Loan Program to Help Maintain Non-Traditional Public Schools
(TRENTON) — The New Jersey School Development Authority (SDA) will be updating the operations and funding mechanisms to get critical school construction projects off the ground after Governor Phil Murphy signed bill A4496 into law on Tuesday.
The legislation, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin, Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, and Assemblymen Robert Karabinchack and Benjie E. Wimberly, makes multiple changes to the way 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.
“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 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 this legislation will help maximize the efficiency of our school construction dollars and modernize the SDA.”
Speaker Coughlin further noted bill A4496 sits at the intersection of three of the Assembly Democratic Caucus’s priorities: education, affordability, and efficiency.
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 deserve 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 legislation ensures students have safe and functional facilities in which they can excel.
In order to ensure school districts have the funding they need to create greater equity across all public schools, the bill also establishes 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 will be available to make critical upgrades to school facilities, start new construction projects, or perform major renovation and rehabilitation projects.
The legislation establishes new tools for non-SDA district schools to initiate school construction projects, along with protections for taxpayers and workers 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, as well as an additional public member appointed by the Governor.
Additional sponsor statements:
“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 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.”
“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 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 Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic). “This legislation will help ensure all students in New Jersey have access to a safe school environment.”