The Lakewood School District is once again facing a severe financial crisis, with a $15 million budget deficit and proposed draconian cuts that would terminate over 20% of its public school teachers as well as many recreational and extracurricular programs.
At heart of this crisis, as well as other crises in recent years, is the broken State funding formula that severely underfunds the Lakewood School District since it doesn’t account for Lakewood’s non-public school children – a solid majority of local children – in its calculations.
However, Lakewood Board of Education President Barry Iann identified another major funding discrepancy that exacerbates the District’s financial struggles. This relates to the federal funding end, specifically the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, commonly known as “IDEA.” This legislation guarantees various special services for children with learning and other disabilities.
The federal government originally committed to provide funding to states for at least 40% of the costs of IDEA mandated services beginning in 2007. This would equal approximately $893 million in funding for New Jersey alone. Unfortunately, the federal government only provides our state less than half of that, under $358 million. This adversely affects all districts in our state, and Lakewood in particular, due to our District’s compounding state funding shortfall.
Mr. Iann wrote an official letter to New Jersey Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, apprising them of this gaping discrepancy, and urging them to ensure that the federal government lives up to its obligations to New Jersey’s children. “This continuing funding shortfall is destroying public education in New Jersey…,” Mr. Iann warned. “While I understand there are many competing interests in Washington, I suggest that educating the future work force and leaders of the nation take priority.”
“It is imperative that our Senators recognize the importance of this funding for Lakewood’s children,” says the Lakewood Vaad in a public statement. “We know that Senators Menendez and Booker want to help; here’s a practical way that they can make a difference – they can help Lakewood kids of all backgrounds receive the funding they need and are legally entitled to.”
In addition to working on the governmental end, Mr. Iann is pursuing other, less conventional funding resources, as the government sources have repeatedly come up short. For instance, the Board President reached out to Mr. Robert Unanue, CEO of Goya Foods, the New Jersey based food giant, which is the largest Hispanic owned food company in the nation. Mr. Iann detailed the woes that Lakewood’s predominantly Hispanic public school population are enduring, and urged Goya to partner with the District for a “mutually beneficial…synergistic partnership.”
Hopefully, these diverse efforts will bear fruit and alleviate the desperate situation that Lakewood students find themselves in.