Gov. Phil Murphy and the New Jersey Department of Education announced April 1 that nearly $18 million in federal American Rescue Plan recovery funds will be allocated to reimburse local educational agencies for additional special education services provided to students who were impacted by COVID-19 related school disruptions but would otherwise have reached the maximum age of eligibility for public school services (21 years old), as required by legislation (S3434) signed by the governor in June 2021.
“Ensuring a high-quality education for all New Jersey students is critical, especially those who have struggled during the pandemic,” Murphy said. “This initiative aims to be responsive to students with disabilities who need additional time in school to provide the skills they need to be successful upon graduating. We will continue to engage in comprehensive outreach efforts to ensure that we reach all students who are in need of these services.”
Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, acting commissioner of education, said, “We are committed to ensuring that all New Jersey students receive the support they need, especially in response to the disruption the pandemic has caused in the classroom. This funding ensures that students with individual education plans remain on track to achieve their educational goals by having the ability to receive an additional year of schooling.”
The NJSBA was instrumental in securing the funding necessary to support the goals of the legislation. As originally introduced, S-3434 lacked a funding provision. Concerned that the legislation would result in an unfunded mandate, the NJSBA worked with the sponsors to ensure that the goals of this special education legislation were fully funded. As a result of those efforts, the legislation will be funded by reimbursing local districts for their costs through federal and state dollars.
The legislation requires LEAs to offer up to one year of additional or compensatory special education for impacted students in the 2020-2021, 2021-2022, and 2022-2023 school years, if a determination is made by the student’s individualized education program team that the student requires such services. The funding allocation will reimburse LEAs for the first cohort of eligible students.
To date, the NJDOE has approved reimbursement applications for 221 students in 78 LEAs. The $18 million reimburses LEAs for the full costs of the first year of the three-year implementation of the program. Reimbursements will be distributed to LEAs in two equal installments, and the NJDOE will continue reimbursing LEAs for the full costs of this program for the next two years.
The goal of compensatory special education and related services is to remedy the knowledge and skills deficit that result when missed services are determined to have caused a denial of a student’s right to a free and appropriate public education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Each IEP team determines the need, type, amount, frequency and duration of compensatory services on a case-by-case basis.
As reflected in the governor’s signing statement, the NJDOE initially estimated that the provision of such services to the three eligible cohorts of students could cost up to $600 million. That estimate was made from an abundance of caution. The NJDOE’s goal is to ensure the state’s ability to reimburse 100% of the costs of services provided under this program.
School officials and residents can email the NJDOE’s Office of Special Education at OSEinfo@doe.nj.gov for more information.