Trenton, November 17, 2022—The New Jersey School Boards Association today thanked Gov. Phil Murphy for his commitment to expanding mental health services to a greater population of students in the state with the administration’s N.J. Statewide Student Support Services (NJ4S) network, while maintaining the existing School Based Youth Services Program (SBYSP) for those districts that currently participate in that program.

The governor announced in a news release yesterday, that the New Jersey Department of Children and Families would issue a request for proposals to create the new NJ4S program in time for the 2023-2024 academic year, while pledging to provide funding to continue the SBYSP through fiscal year 2024.  Originally the administration indicated that funding for SBYSP would be discontinued and services would be provided by the new program beginning in the 2023-2024 academic year.

The SBYSP is a decades-old mental health program that operates in 90 of the state’s districts.

“NJSBA supports efforts to enhance and expand mental health services for students,” said Dr. Timothy Purnell, NJSBA executive director. “However, the Association raised concerns about the difficulty of ensuring the continuity of services for those districts currently in the SBYSP, which provides students with critically important supports. We thank the governor for his commitment to the students of New Jersey.”

“We applaud the governor for addressing the mental health crisis in our schools. It is a relief to know that the new program will include a continuation of the highly successful School Based Youth Services program that assists so many students in their own schools,” said Dr. Karen Cortellino, NJSBA vice president for legislation/resolutions.

The NJSBA strongly advocated for keeping funding for the SBYSP while moving forward with NJ4S, sending out an “Action Alert” to members, urging them to provide feedback on the proposal to the administration.

“NJSBA also commends its member districts, many of which reached out to express opposition to the proposal to immediately discontinue the SBYSP,” Purnell said. “Several districts provided the Association with a copy of the remarks they submitted, and those statements were persuasive and insightful.  Our members demonstrated the power of grass roots advocacy.”

The Association also extends its gratitude to New Jersey’s legislative community for its support.  At Workshop 2022 in Atlantic City (an annual conference for school officials), a bipartisan panel including Sen. Vin Gopal, chair of the Senate Education Committee; Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, Senate Republican budget officer; Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, chair of the Assembly Education Committee, and Assemblyman Brandon Umba, a member of the Assembly Education Committee, all expressed support for the SBYSP.

NJSBA would also like to thank Assemblywoman Mila Jasey. As the co-chair of the Joint Committee on the Public Schools, Jasey held a hearing in October on the state Department of Children and Families’ proposal to replace the SBYSP with the NJ4S program this year. During the hearing, legislators on both sides of the aisle expressed strong support for maintaining existing school-based programs. Jasey also introduced legislation (A-4808), which now has more than 30 sponsors, that would codify the SBYSP into statute and require the DCF to continue administering school-based youth services as currently established.

On Nov. 2, NJSBA President Irene LeFebvre, Purnell, and Jonathan Pushman, NJSBA director of governmental relations, along with other New Jersey education stakeholders, met with Murphy. Purnell spoke on the financial pressures that boards of education are facing and are likely to continue to struggle with, due to rising inflation and increased costs of health care premiums, transportation and special education.  He urged the governor to consider increasing state aid to schools.  “If additional funding considerations are not made, many of our districts’ new, creative and innovative programs will suffer and/or be removed from the budget,” Purnell said.