Due to redistricting, state Senator John Girgenti (D-35) found himself looking at his career in Trenton closing its current chapter. A member of the State Legislature for over three decades, Girgenti saw a tough reelection race ahead in 2011 with a likely matchup against state Senator Robert Gordon and less of his traditional voting constituents being available to aid him. However, with his career in the State Legislature nearing its end, Girgenti was undeterred in his hope of leaving a lasting mark while he still could. He was provided with one such opportunity around the time that he normally would be campaigning for votes and waiting to hear results after voters head to the polls.
Due to funding and budget constraints, the NJ After 3 program found itself losing its ability to be available for thousands of low income children, who depend on an outlet after school to not only focus on their studies, but more importantly; stay off the streets and out of trouble. NJ After 3 assists YMCAs and boys and girls club run programs and keep their doors open after school hours before parents get home. The near decade program assists families all over the state, but it is those children in areas like Paterson, New Brunswick, or Camden that depend that much more on the outlet.
At the time of the decision to cut funds to the program due to budget constraints, Governor Chris Christie expressed,
“We had to make a lot of very difficult decisions and I think programs like that that can be funded through private funds should be encouraged to do so during very difficult, tough economic times. That may not have been a choice that I would have otherwise made if we weren’t confronted with the difficult times we’re confronted with, but we are, and so I have to make a lot of very difficult decisions.”
Money began to dry up the last couple years and with the Democratic budget failing to garner Christie’s support, essential funding for it drifted away.
In response to the unavailability of the state to provide funding for such an important program, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34), exclaimed;
“This program has kept children safe and away from gangs and other ill-advised activities. It improved student achievement. It helped working families. It was the best kind of public-private partnership. We can’t discuss improving educational outcomes for at-risk children without investing the resources to supplement what happens during the school day.”
While state Senator Girgenti voiced,
“NJ After 3 has always been a great program that serves the children of our state, and the fact that it will no longer be operational is evidence of the short-sightedness of this year’sbudget. This program provides a necessary service and a social good, and it is truly disappointing to see this happen.”
Girgenti was a sponsor of the budget resolution, SCR226, to restore the $3 million in funding cut by Christie in June.
Luckily, for the program and especially for the children who depend on it; an eleventh hour deal was crafted between private donors and the state Department of Education. An influential member of that partnership was David Tepper, a hedge fund manager who formed a nonprofit organization named Better Education for New Jersey Kids.
As unveiled by Christie,
“There are lots of willing funders out there who want to support good programs for people in New Jersey. This is the model for what we should be doing for these types of programs across the state during difficult fiscal times.”
There was much relief amongst members of the State Legislature; much of which came from its Democratic members. For Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle (D-35),
“After-school programming isn’t a political issue and I’m sorry to see the governor playing politics with it like this.”
Girgenti echoed Huttle’s comments by further stating,
“It is indeed good news that the New Jersey After 3 program will continue to operate. It serves a dual purpose: as an afterschool educational program, and as an effective tool to keep our children off the streets in a safe environment during the peak hours of 3PM to 5PM, when they are most susceptible to crime and gang activity. There was never any doubt that NJ After 3 fulfilled its mission to New Jersey’s children year after year, and was always deserved of funding. I am glad that it will be able to continue fulfilling its mission. The real beneficiaries of this announcement are the thousands of parents and children throughout the State of New Jersey who can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that such a program will still exist for them. It is a true testament to the program’s effectiveness and community support that it will survive. Along with Governor Christie and my colleagues in the Senate and Assembly, I look forward to helping ensure that New Jersey After 3 can continue its mission of service to the children of New Jersey for years to come.”
Since 2004 with its creation, NJ After 3 has extended school days by 40% for roughly 75,000 student statewide in 29 school districts. The program offers opportunities like tutoring, fitness activities, and art programs.