On Wednesday, April 10, the Assembly Budget Committee heard testimony from Acting NJDOE Commissioner Kevin Dehmer and Schools Development Authority CEO Manuel Da Silva on the governor’s proposed budget for their respective agencies for the 2024-2025 fiscal year. The two also appeared before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, April 16.

In his written testimony delivered to the committee, Dehmer highlighted that this budget proposal concludes the seven-year phase-in of what is commonly referred to as “S2.” Dehmer noted that the budget includes an infusion of $908 million in K-12 formula aid, and a preschool funding increase of nearly $124 million. This additional funding will bring total K-12 formula aid to nearly $11.7 billion, and total funding for preschool will surpass $1.2 billion. Direct support to schools now exceeds 24% of the entire state budget, which fully funds the school funding formula for the first time since the School Funding Reform Act began in fiscal year 2009.  While touting this accomplishment. Dehmer also acknowledged that 140 districts will experience a reduction in state aid next year. He went on to state that the NJDOE and the Murphy administration “will be working with the Legislature to reexamine aspects of the funding formula and the interplay between the formula and other school finance requirements.”

The acting commissioner also noted that the budget includes COVID-19 relief funding to support high dose tutoring for students and Reading Acceleration Professional Integrated Development funding for elementary educators. The fiscal year 2025 proposed budget also includes a $2.5 million grant program for literacy screenings in schools, a key tool to help districts identify those students who are struggling the most with literacy. Dehmer also stressed that the proposed budget includes federal COVID-19 relief funds to address mental health issues – and that the funding includes $15 million from the federal School-Based Mental Health Services Grant Program awarded to the department last year.

The proposed budget also includes $500,000 to support professional development for our school-based mental health professionals as well as $50,000 to implement recent legislation that requires school districts to provide instruction on grief as part of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards. Two new budget items will provide funds to explore the use of generative artificial intelligence in schools. Both funded at $1 million, the first proposal is for an Artificial Intelligence Career and Technical Education Expansion program to support vocational and technical schools to develop programs, curricula and career pathways for generative AI. The second would fund an Artificial Intelligence Innovation in Education Grants Program to support public school districts in the development of programs, curricula, resources and best practices for education on topics related to generative AI. Dehmer also told the committee about proposed programs in the budget to bolster the teacher pipeline, among other initiatives. He also provided written responses to pre-submitted questions.

In his testimony, Da Silva spoke about the SDA’s new capital plan that identified 19 projects to remedy capacity deficiencies and facilities needs throughout the state.  Of those 19, two projects are now complete. Two additional projects are in the early site preparation phase. Of the remaining 15 projects, eight now have preliminary or planning project charters approved by the SDA board of directors. This action allows for the engagement of bridging design consultants or in-house design activities for these projects. The remaining seven projects are either in the planning and scope validation stage with school districts or are projects that will be phased in upon the completion of other projects in a district. Additionally, Da Silva highlighted the approval of nearly $450 million in school construction funds to address critical facilities needs in more than 260 school districts throughout the state. Of the $450 million in grant funding, $350 million will come from the funds allocated to the SDA from the state’s Debt Defeasance and Prevention Fund, while the remaining $100 million will come from available grant funding from previous allocations. In addition to answering questions at the hearing, Da Silva provided  written answers to pre-submitted questions by the budget committee.

An analysis of the NJDOE’s proposed budget completed by the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services can be found here.

To listen to an archive of both proceedings, you can access them on the New Jersey Legislature website here and here.