NJPSA Statement on Governor’s Revised Budget Proposal for Fiscal Year 2021 September 3, 2020

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Our State budget is the blueprint of our collective priorities.  

The statewide membership of the NJ Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA) believes that New Jersey’s school students must continue to be a state priority. We understand how difficult times can make budgeting choices next to impossible as our members engage in such triage decision-making at the school and district level in  tight budget years. We do not envy the difficult decisions that you face this year in  developing and enacting a State Budget for FY 2021 that meets the breadth of needs of  New Jersey citizens. The comprehensive societal, economic, public health, and  educational impacts of the COVID -19 pandemic are still playing out in our state; yet  you must act to address not only the losses that have already occurred, but to move our  state forward to a better place.  

In this context, NJPSA must voice its support and appreciation for key aspects of  Governor Murphy’s revised Budget Proposal for FY 2021 that impact public  education and the school community. We also have several recommendations for  your consideration and one area of major concern – the elimination of funding for  much-needed School-Based Youth Services.

In a time of significantly reduced state revenues, we appreciate the fact  that public education will receive stable funding in the Governor’s proposed budget. 

The Governor has maintained the state aid figures that were previously announced in  July to districts in their state aid notices. We appreciate the sustained and stable investment in New Jersey’s public schools. 

These aid figures followed, in part, the previously negotiated funding path set forth in  S-2 (P.L. 2018, c. 67) which updated the school funding formula to adjust for  enrollment and the continued phase-out of Adjustment Aid, a category of hold  harmless aid that the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 anticipated to be phased out  as the formula was fully funded. Although these state aid numbers did not include the  full increase in formula aid negotiated in S-2 for this year to reach full funding over  the seven years period, state aid did continue the reallocation of formula aid from  “overfunded” to “underfunded” districts as set forth in S-2. This translates into two  thirds of New Jersey’s districts receiving an increase in formula aid and about 196 districts experiencing anticipated cuts in state aid. 

This is a difficult time for any school district to operate with state aid cuts when the  need for safety is a top priority, when learning challenges are widespread and the additional costs of technology, staffing and safety needs were not fairly anticipated when budgets were struck at the start of the year. We are concerned about school districts that are not yet budgeting to the state approved “adequacy level” determined  by the law as necessary to meet New Jersey’s State Learning Standards. Many of these  districts, characterized by low socioeconomics and high student needs, have been  particularly hard hit during the pandemic. 

Originally, the Governor’s Budget Proposal offered a one-time remedy of $50 million  in “Stabilization Aid” this year to assist districts losing aid under S2 to transition to  sustainable budgeting without raising local property taxes. This funding has been  eliminated in the Revised Budget, yet the spending cuts remain. As you consider the  overall budget picture, we ask you to consider restoring some level of  stabilization aid to these hard-hit districts. This form of aid does recognize the  disproportionate impact that any cuts, even those that were anticipated, will have on  any school district at this difficult economic time. It also will assist our taxpayers at  this challenging time.  

Although our long-term goal is for full funding of our school funding formula for all  school districts when our citizens and economy recover, we appreciate the fact that the  Governor’s recommended budget did not cut school districts’ aid figures from the July  numbers. This has provided the opportunity for some level of planning and follow through on necessary purchasing at a time when the rules and needs keep changing for  school leaders as they work to reopen their schools. 

Extraordinary Special Education Aid 

An important form of aid that assists all school districts is the pot of aid funding the  extraordinary costs of special education used to cover high cost placements or costs  funding services needed by students with multiple disabilities. These students need  these programs and services to function and learn. Federal law mandates their  

provision. The proposed budget maintains last year’s important increase in this pot of  funding for districts and we appreciate the effort to keep this funding stable for our  students who have significant needs. Students with disabilities faced the greatest  challenges in continuing their learning when schools moved to remote learning in  March. If additional revenue sources are identified to assist school districts,  funding this type of categorical aid will assist all New Jersey districts and their  budgeting options. 

Preschool Funding and Expansion 

NJPSA understands the critical link between high quality preschool programs and  lifetime success in learning. New Jersey has much to be proud of in this area. We are  a national leader for our preschool model and we applaud the continued investment in our public preschool program with a total increase of $68 million this fiscal year. We  support the opportunity for new programs to develop at a time when a good start to  education is more important than ever. The budget proposal includes $10 million  within the preschool budget line for these new opportunities for our youngest students. 

We fully support the direction of much-needed funding for PPE, safety  equipment, facilities modifications and technology to safely reopen schools  this fall.  

NJPSA is extremely thankful for the Governor’s announced allocation of $100 million  from the State’s federal CARES Act funding to finance school district costs related to  safely reopening schools. Although not a state budget item per se, this funding is  essential to all districts. As stated, districts struck their budgets before this pandemic  hit us fully. A national study conducted by the Association of School Business  Officials International and the American Association of School Administrators, found  that school districts nationwide can expect to spend about $490.00 more per pupil to  cover costs of PPE, healthcare supplies, sanitizing supplies, health and custodial staff  alone. This does not account for the additional costs of modifications to the building to  ensure student and staff safety as envisioned in The Road Back, Restart and Recovery  Plan for Education issued by the NJ Department of Education in June. This report  sets forth some guidelines and options for districts to consider, including the  modifications of building spaces, installation of plexiglass and the like to assist in  social distancing for student and staff safety in school buildings. All of these options  cost money that was not reasonably anticipated. Recent estimates on modifications to  HVAC systems alone are ranging from $30.00 to $50.00 per square foot in our  buildings just for installation. Many districts are delaying the start of in-person  instruction due to their inability to afford necessary HVAC modifications to ensure a  safe air flow level in their buildings to a calendar date when air conditioning will not  be necessary.  

Similarly, we fully support the Governor’s initiatives with the private sector and  philanthropic community and the announced use of federal funding for the  purchase of technology and connectivity for students as a foundation for remote  learning. For many districts, remote learning is the opening option of the school year.  No student should be without a personal device to learn. It is simply a basic learning  tool of our times and New Jersey must step up to provide devices and reliable  connectivity for every student. 

A Continued Commitment to Educators 

NJPSA members are thankful to both Governor Murphy and the State Legislature for  your mutual commitment to continue on the funding pathway negotiated to restore public employee pensions to solvency. Our members have committed their careers to  serving New Jersey’s students and we appreciate the State’s leadership honoring its  commitment to funding their pensions in this budget. We urge you to maintain the  pension payment set forth in the Governor’s Budget proposal to support not only  public employees but a solid credit rating for out state. 

Other Initiatives – Lead Remediation A Critical Investment Issues such as the lead remediation program, addressing school security needs as  required by Alyssa’s Law, computer science grant programs, teacher diversification  grants, and STEM programs are all important initiatives that receive some level of  funding under the Governor’s proposal. They are all worthy initiatives already  underway. The lead remediation program investment of a million dollars is critical to  continue efforts to address the significant negative effects of lead on health and  learning. This is a major state issue that deserves prompt and sustained attention and  funding due to the potential lifelong impacts on our children.

Cutting School Based Youth Services Funding  

Another area of major concern for our members is the cutting of approximately $11 million in funding for School Based Youth Services Programs funded under the  Department of Children and Families (DCF). For about 30 years, School Based Youth  Services have provided much-needed counseling services at the school site to  students. The funding provides staff and counselors, often through an outside  provider, who address student emotional and mental health needs, substance abuse  issues, family issues, student assault issues, pregnancy prevention, grief counseling,  peer counseling, anger management and suicide prevention services in about 100  school districts. I have attached the testimony of Ralph Aiello, Principal of  Cumberland Regional High School who describes the priceless contribution of this  program to the students in his high school for the past 14 years. 

The proposed budget eliminates the funding stream for this program. Instead, DCF is  slated to receive a $45 million increase to that Department’s budget to support its  program of supporting children, the NJ Children’s System of Care. DCF has  effectively used this system of care to support children and adolescents with  behavioral health needs and/or intellectual and developmental disabilities. It appears  from a recent statement released by DCF on this issue that the $45 million increase  “will allow for updated rates to providers for their critical services and to provide the  crucial care and assistance families may need, in coordination and collaboration with  local providers and Family Support Organizations statewide.” The statement also says  that DCF is committed to working with the NJDOE and school districts to promote the  NJ System of Care as an alternative to School Based Youth Services.  

While we support the excellent work of DCF in this area, we are concerned that this  System of Care will not provide services on site to students. We are also unsure of its immediate capacity to handle student needs in our buildings in the time of COVID 19. In our experience, many school districts do not have the extensive network of  providers available to students that DCF asserts is available. In fact, recent legislation  introduced by Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald recognizes the need for a  statewide survey of mental health providers statewide to identify service gap areas (A 4436/S-2718) Additionally, there are issues of insurance faced by many families that  can become barriers to care. When counseling services are directly provided at  school, where students are for the vast majority of their day, they are more likely to  take advantage of the program and get the help they need. This is not the time to  fundamentally change student mental health services programs that work when  students are arriving at school with more needs than ever before. It is our  understanding that the counselors working on site in these programs are already  receiving lay off notices before the school year begins.  

For this reason, we urge the Legislature to maintain funding for School Based Youth  Services programs. We understand that the loss of this $11 million dollars triggers a  parallel loss of $11 million federal dollars for this program. We ask you to investigate  this issue, learn how the federal dollars are being reallocated and if the DCF intends to  guarantee the level of programs and services that School Based Youth Services  provided to the entire student population of a school at the school building site.  Our students have been through so much this past year and need these services more  than ever. By offering the services on site, schools can reach students more readily.  At a minimum, this is an issue that needs more exploration to ensure that the wellness  needs of our students are met in our schools.  

Thank you for your consideration of the recommendations of the NJ Principals and  Supervisors Association. 

Submitted by: Debra J. Bradley, Esq., Director of Government Relations