One of the largest problems facing municipalities is the issue of unfunded mandates. An unfunded mandate is a law that requires either a local or state government to complete a task without any financial support. No Child Left Behind is an excellent example. Though legislators argued the law would have no cost to taxpayers, states had to pay for improvements to comply with No Child Left Behind standards. As a result, unfunded mandates can force undue financial burdens on both state and local governments.
While states have large financial resources with which they can fund programs, municipalities work with substantially smaller pocketbooks. This problem is seen most notably in education. The NJ Department of Education mandates that municipalities and local school districts administer the PARCC test. This test requires schools to update computer systems, increase bandwidth, and purchase laptops for students. With horrendous state budget cuts to education, the state has only given districts $20 per child to pay for these crucial upgrades to administer the exam even though the test alone costs $30.
This mandate and others have cost the Rockaway Township Board of Education an estimated $1 million. Unsurprisingly, the Board passed a resolution, which I support, calling on the State of New Jersey to pay for the mandates it has forced upon the local taxpayers.
Despite good intentions, these mandates are harming schools rather than helping them. Students are not receiving the education they deserve because states do not provide the necessary funds.
As a result, I am calling on NJ to increase education funding and work with municipalities to provide funding options to help pay for these unfunded mandates. The state should not require municipalities to fund projects without knowing that they have the means to do so.
At the end of the day, children are the future of this country. We owe it to them to give them the tools they need to succeed.
Mark Dunec is a professional problem-solver running for Congress in NJ’s 11th Congressional District.