After 35 years as a senator without once seeing New Jersey legislate substantial funding to benefit inner-city kids with a full-scale community recreation overhaul, Senator Ronald L. Rice today called on Governor Murphy, Senate President Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Coughlin to set aside $1 billion of New Jersey’s $11.4 billion budget for the after-school needs of inner-city school children. With the state’s current windfall, he urges colleagues to send a clear message that New Jersey values its inner-city kids by exceeding its habitual limited dollar amount in the tens or hundreds of thousands and finally put solid financial backing into the well-rounded development of urban kids.
“This is a grass-roots demand from communities all over our state that watch money gush to every other sector of our society and every other faction of our population but leaves our city kids to fend for themselves on the street, exposed to gun violence, gang activity and every other kind of harm,” Rice said. “Our state’s annual budgets fund every possible cause and program, including our new invasive marijuana industry. But they have never – not once – benefited these kids who sit on the sidelines and watch their suburban counterparts enjoy every imaginable after-school amenity.”
Rice has introduced legislation to give kids a stimulating after-school safe haven since he first became a senator in 1986. “But now with this year’s revenue surplus – time’s up!” he said. Rice’s letter to the legislative leadership and the governor puts them on notice that the ongoing disregard for city kids will not stand in a year when New Jersey finds itself flush with an unexpected surge in tax revenue and federal stimulus aid totaling an astounding $11.4 billion. To ignore these kids now “would be an abhorrent affront to our children and their families, a hideous stain on our legacy as legislators and a regrettable episode in our history,” he wrote.
Rice has been video-conferencing with members of the New Jersey Urban Mayors Association, to seek their insight on which after-school recreational investments would have the greatest impact on the children’s quality of life and well-being. “We are in the process of determining the costs associated with creating and improving recreational opportunities for our urban school children,” Rice explained. “This includes retrofitting and rebuilding playgrounds, pools and gyms and offering programs and equipment to provide our children with skill-building opportunities beyond their academic experience. These kids and their communities need a firm commitment from our leaders that they matter and that help is on the way.”
These excerpts summarize the letter’s intent:
We’ve passed a lot of important bills that have done much good for our urban communities, but as I travel around my home city of Newark, I see that we have failed to help our kids be kids and grow naturally into a state of pride and joyful confidence. Our cities’ school playgrounds have been converted into parking lots for teachers afraid to leave their cars on the street. A netless hoop and a decades-old chess table do not constitute the caliber of equipment that shows inner-city kids that they are as valuable to us as the ones who live in affluent suburban school districts.
It seems to me that New Jersey’s unexpected $11.4 billion surplus is our chance to demonstrate our reverence for our kids … If we truly want to lead our state into a future of peace and prosperity for all, it is incumbent on us to invest in the proper development and well-being of urban kids as they form the foundation of their identity and worth. This is our chance to prove our faith in their ability to lead.
In this moment, I see our past and our future. I see a time from my youth, when parents admonished kids for hanging out on the corner and shooed them over to the school playground – a time when playgrounds still offered the activities and camaraderie kids need to thrive. I see our recent suffering through the double anguish of a devastating pandemic and a racial reckoning that each forced us to admit tragic flaws in our economy based on fundamental societal bias and discrimination. I can also look ahead into the future where so many of us have vowed to chart a course toward equality and a sustainable world society. We and our colleagues are the bridge between the problems and the solution. This is our God-given chance.
The full letter follows:Rice to Murphy_Leg Leaders on $1b budget Set-aside