NJPSA Executive Director Karen Bingert and Director of Government Relations Debra Bradley joined colleagues from statewide education associations representing superintendents, teachers, business officials, parents, vocational technical schools, and school boards at an education roundtable discussion with Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senate Education Chair Teresa Ruiz. The focus of the roundtable was the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and local school districts’ plans and any obstacles to accessing and spending these much-needed federal dollars for a successful return to school this fall.
President Biden signed the federal American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund into law on March 11, 2021. New Jersey schools are scheduled to receive nearly 2.5 billion dollars for use in hiring and maintaining staff, addressing learning loss, providing interventions to address the social and emotional needs of students and staff and providing a safe and healthy environment for learning.
Senate President Sweeney asked the education leaders present for their priorities for the use of these funds and how he and the State Legislature could assist districts in meeting their planning goals. An immediate issue raised was the upgrading of HVAC systems in school buildings and the time-consuming approval process for such non-education related projects that must gain NJDOE review and approval. Other issues raised included the need for uniform and timely statewide health guidance on such issues as mask wearing, school closing and vaccination policy, learning loss issues, NJDOE responsiveness and virtual learning options moving forward.
Bingert shared the following principal priority areas during the discussion:
- Establishing a safe school environment/facility for our students in-person return, that is ready to serve as a learning center, as a basic prerequisite for successful and continued school reopening.
- Providing a warm, welcoming and inclusive school environment attuned to the issues our students bring to us when they enter our buildings. This means we must have the staffing, programs, and training needed to meet the social and emotional needs of our students, helping students transition from issues they faced during the pandemic, so they are then able to turn their attention back to learning.
- Meeting the learning needs of our students, wherever they stand.
- Providing a supportive system for our families and our staff so we can work in partnership to meet the needs of our students.
Following the meeting, NJPSA, NJASA, Garden State Coalition of Schools, NJEA, NJSBA, and NJ Council of County Vocational Technical Schools submitted collective recommendations for future consideration and discussion with Senate leaders. For more information on the American Rescue Plan, visit https://www.nj.gov/education/esser/arp/.