As the Legislature’s “budget break” begins to wind down, New Jersey Acting Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan went before the Assembly Budget Committee on May 10 to discuss the education component of Gov. Murphy’s fiscal year 2022 proposed budget.

Following her opening remarks, several committee members explored issues concerning the reopening of schools.

Allen-McMillan and her accompanying staff largely deferred on such questions and noted the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) stands ready to assist local districts to develop and implement reopening plans. This was largely the position of NJDOE on issues such as summer school, efforts to address learning loss and accelerated learning, and attendance issues.

Some committee members urged NJDOE to be more involved in reopening plans for schools statewide while ensuring federal funds are spent judiciously. Additionally, committee members worried aloud that federal funds, which will sunset in a few years, should be used on finite programs and not to create new funding demands on the state.

Other legislators asked whether the federal aid going to the state could be used to either reach full funding of the state education aid formula (it is currently $950 million underfunded), or be used to hold harmless the districts losing aid under rules established under the S-2 funding formula. The acting commissioner and her staff responded that they are continuing on a path to achieving full funding by  2025.

Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Union) broached the subject of extraordinary special education, which despite seeing a $25 million increase in the proposed budget, continues to be underfunded by the state. Munoz noted that, in comparison, preschool education was receiving a $50 million increase. However, providing special education to anyone qualifying in K-12 education is a constitutional obligation for a school district to fulfill. Preschool, on the other hand, is not.

With the budget hearings reaching an end, the Legislature will now turn its attention toward enacting a fiscal year 2022 budget by the June 30 deadline. You can watch the full Assembly Budget Committee hearing here.