Earlier this month, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Division of Local Government Services announced that grant applications are open for the School Regionalization Efficiency Program.

The program will allow public school districts and eligible governing bodies in New Jersey to apply for grant funding for school regionalization or consolidation studies. Under the grant program, which was established by P.L. 2021, c.402, signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in January, DLGS will provide reimbursement to approved applicants of eligible costs associated with feasibility studies that look at school district regionalization or consolidation. The studies will explore how districts could merge, including forming countywide and regional school districts, and if a potential merger would result in cost savings or other efficiencies and benefits to students and taxpayers.

P.L. 2021, c.402 is the legislation championed by former Senate President Steve Sweeney that established various incentives for school districts to explore regionalization. In addition to establishing a grant program for conducting regionalization feasibility studies, the legislation included other financial incentives for districts to pursue regionalization, particularly those that are losing state aid pursuant to the law commonly referred to as “S-2.” Specifically, districts facing state aid cuts would see those reductions phased in over a longer period of time if the districts involved choose to start a regionalization plan. An additional incentive provides that, through 2028-2029, newly established K-12 regional districts would receive the greater of the state aid to which the newly established district would be entitled, or the sum of the aid of what would have been provided to the constituent districts prior to the creation of the new regional district. In addition to the financial incentives, the bill establishes various flexibilities regarding implementation of a regionalization plan that are intended to make the process easier. The law maintains voter approval over any final decision to regionalize.

This new program is separate from the Local Efficiency Achievement Program created in 2019. That program also, in part, provides reimbursement of costs associated with school consolidation and countywide school district studies that support the creation of meaningful and implementable regionalization plans.

“By inviting public schools and governing bodies to apply for this grant funding, we are opening the door for interested parties to explore potential cost savings and streamlining of services without sacrificing the quality of the education they are delivering” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who also serves as DCA commissioner. “New Jersey will continue to maintain the number one public school ranking in the nation because of our commitment to supporting academic excellence and increasing district efficiencies.”

“The School Regionalization Efficiency Program can provide the incentive that communities need to explore whether regionalization will work for their schools,” said Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, acting commissioner of education. “When implemented successfully, regionalization can generate positive impacts across the school community. Students, especially, stand to benefit as regionalization often leads to more efficient school operations, a greater array of student services and a seamless K-12 curriculum that is aligned from one grade to the next.”

Factors like enrollment, facility utilization, contiguous districts with small enrollment, existing send/receive relationships, administrative staffing, class size, diversity enhancement, debt, contractual obligations, faculty needs and attrition will be evaluated in the feasibility studies. Priority will be given to K-12 regionalization and countywide school district proposals.

“The SREP program is uniquely designed to help school districts come to the table with neighboring schools to explore the outcomes they want to see accomplished for their students and community,” said DLGS Director Jacquelyn Suárez. “Consolidation or regionalization can benefit school districts that are looking for ways to supplement programs and services for their students without a cost to taxpayers.”

“We’re looking forward to assisting districts who decide to take advantage of this shared services grant opportunity to save taxpayer dollars,” said former Mayors Nicolas Platt (R) and Jordan Glatt (D), who were appointed by Murphy in a bipartisan effort in 2018 to be the state’s first shared services czars. “We know from prior experience that moving toward regionalization and consolidation can have a positive impact on school districts if executed properly. We stand ready to assist public schools and local governments in this effort.”

New Jersey boards of education of local school districts, consolidated school districts, and nonoperating school districts, and boards of education of a limited purpose or all-purpose regional district are eligible to apply for grant funding. Governing bodies of school districts that do not have a board of education, or a municipality constituting part of a consolidated school district, and the governing body of a municipality constituting a constituent district of a limited purpose or all-purpose regional district, are also eligible to receive SREP grant funding.

Funding is available to support K-12 regionalization and countywide school district consolidation studies for the following three types of projects:

  1. Preliminary approval for school district regionalization to form an all-purpose regional district by expanding an existing limited-purpose regional district through consolidation with some or all of the constituent or sending school districts, or to form a countywide school district.
  2. Newly proposed feasibility studies for school district regionalization and those studies in the process of being conducted.
  3. Previously conducted feasibility studies for school district regionalization feasibility studies completed within two years prior to the enactment of P.L. 2021, c. 133 on June 29, 2021.

All feasibility study projects seeking SREP funding support must meet the following criteria:

  • Reflect the potential for meaningful and implementable regionalization plans to advance an enhanced learning environment for participating school districts.
  • Coordinate curriculum across schools and grades throughout the proposed consolidation/regionalization.
  • Reflect the potential for improved efficiency and cost savings.
  • Demonstrate that the proposed regionalization does not, and is not foreseeably likely to, increase or exacerbate the segregation of students by racial, socioeconomic, disability, or English language learner status as determined by the number and percentage of students enrolled in the school districts seeking to consolidate or, as applicable, in the school districts from which a school district is seeking to withdraw.
  • To the maximum extent practicable, lead to the establishment of a limited purpose or all-purpose regional district.
  • Consolidate school districts that are in close geographic proximity of each other. (School districts need not be immediately contiguous as long as any geographic separation is not so large as to contradict the potential for improved efficiency and cost savings).
  • Reflect a documented commitment from participating boards of education, and municipal governing bodies to make good faith efforts to implement study recommendations and subsequent execution of a regionalization plan that promotes efficiency and quality of education.

The amount awarded for any school consolidation feasibility study may account for up to 100% of study costs, depending upon application quality and outcome. School districts applying for preliminary approval feasibility studies of an expanded or countywide school district and newly proposed feasibility studies are eligible for 50% payment of the award upon execution of a grant agreement with DLGS and the submission of required documentation. The remaining 50% will be paid following approval of the completed study and regionalization implementation plan.

Once a study has been completed, the school districts may follow through with service sharing agreements but are not obligated to do so.

The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. June 30, 2022.

For further details, please see the program guidelines and application: