Budget season is underway in Trenton and began with two full days of remote public hearings held by the Assembly Budget Committee on Monday, March 21 and Wednesday, March 23. The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee held its first public hearing on Tuesday, March 29. It will convene for another hearing April 21, which is later than normal. According to Sen. Paul Sarlo, who chairs the committee, the second hearing will be held after revenue and economic updates are provided by the treasurer and the Office of Legislative Services, giving the public more up-to-date information to comment on at a time of economic uncertainty.

These hearings provide advocates and members of the public an opportunity to weigh in on Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed $49.8 billion budget for fiscal year 2023, which includes over $19 billion in overall school aid, of which $9.9 billion is sent to school districts as formula aid. Jonathan Pushman, director of governmental relations at the New Jersey School Boards Association, testified on behalf of the Association. A copy of his written testimony can be found here.

In addition to convening public hearings, the budget committee of both houses will receive testimony from the heads of various state departments and agencies throughout April and May.  Staff from the Office of Legislative Services and the state treasurer will kick off this portion of the budget review process when they appear before the Assembly Budget Committee on Monday, April 4, and then the following day in front of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

Acting Commissioner of Education Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan is scheduled to testify before the Assembly Budget Committee on Monday, April 11. She will later appear before the Senate on April 28. The full budget hearing schedules can be found on the Legislature’s website here and here.

More Budget Details Emerge

A summary of the governor’s proposal, known as the Budget in Brief, was unveiled when the governor delivered his budget address to the Legislature earlier this month. Last Tuesday, a more detailed version of the spending plan was published on the website of the Office of Management and Budget and can be accessed here. A previous edition of School Board Notes described the education highlights of the budget. Below are some additional aspects of the budget that were not in the Budget in Brief:

  • $26.564 million for the School Linked Services Program within the Department of Children of Families. This is the same amount appropriated to the program in the current fiscal year. The Office of School Linked Services oversees the School Based Youth Services Program. The SBYSP provides the following services in host schools: mental health counseling; employment counseling; substance abuse education/prevention; preventive health awareness including pregnancy prevention; primary medical linkages; learning support; healthy youth development; recreation; and information/referral.
  • A language provision appropriating funds to districts participating in regionalization feasibility study pursuant to L.2021, c.402, and any other additional funding necessary to fulfill the provisions of that law. This provision relates to the law enacted earlier this year that establishes a grant program to fund feasibility studies and other incentives to explore regionalization. These include a longer timeframe for phasing in state aid losses pursuant to “S-2” for participating districts and state reimbursement of regionalization referenda for any elections that stem from the completion of a study conducted in connection with the new grant program.
  • $16.8 million for a fiscal year 2022 supplemental appropriation of “American Rescue Plan Maintenance of Equity Aid.” The governor is proposing an identical amount for fiscal year 2023. The budget document did not provide additional information on this line item. But it likely relates to the “maintenance of equity” provisions in the American Rescue Plan, the COVID relief package approved by Congress and President Joe Biden in early 2021, which places certain requirements on states as condition of receiving ARP funds. Such provisions ensure that certain “highest-poverty” school districts receive at least the same amount of funding in 2022 and 2023 as was provided to them in 2019. They also prohibit states from reducing the per-pupil amount of state funding for any “high-need” school district by an amount that exceeds the overall per-pupil reduction in state funding, if any, across all districts. More information on how this money will be distributed, if approved by the Legislature, should come out during the budget review process.
  • $500,000 for a “School-Based Mental Health Training Program.” This program was established by legislation enacted at the end of last session and creates a grant program to encourage school districts to partner with institutions of higher education in training school-based mental health services providers.