On Thursday, Sept. 10, Gov. Phil Murphy appeared on the WNYC radio program “Ask the Governor” and expressed his support for funding of the School–Based Youth Services Program (SBYSP).
Under the governor’s proposed spending plan for the nine-month fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, this critical service is scheduled for elimination. The program, housed within the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF), provides students and families – in a school setting – with vital supports, such as mental health counseling, employment counseling, substance abuse education and prevention, preventive health awareness, primary medical linkages, and learning support. Over 90 school districts throughout the state currently participate in the program.
During the radio broadcast, a listener submitted the following question via social media:
“What is the rationale for defunding the School Based Youth Services Program, which has a solid track record of providing much–needed student support services in New Jersey schools? It would seem that these services, including mental health, are needed now more than ever.”
While recognizing that this is neither a normal school year nor a normal budget, Gov. Murphy indicated that he is working with the Legislature on potentially restoring the funding to the SBYSP:
“This is one of the things that we’d like to try to find a way to get back in the budget that we negotiate with the Legislature. We had a good meeting today with leadership in the Legislature on the budget. We had another one a couple of days ago. This is one that I think there’s a broad agreement and support to try to find a way to get it back in. I’ve just got to make sure we have the money to pay for it, but there’s no question it’s something we should do everything we can to get back in and it does an enormous amount of good.”
NJSBA Advocacy The Association is actively pushing for continued, if not increased, funding of the SBYSP. A letter from the NJSBA’s director of Governmental Relations, Jonathan Pushman, was sent to the DCF Commissioner on Sept. 4 expressing the Association’s strong opposition to the proposed cuts. That letter was also sent to Gov. Murphy, Senate President Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Coughlin, the chairs of the Senate and Assembly budget committees, and the state treasurer.
Sample Resolution The NJSBA has drafted a sample resolution that local boards of education can adopt to express their support for continued state funding of the program. The link to the resolution is here.
“We are pleased that Governor Murphy supports continued funding of the program during the 2020-2021 school year,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director. “For the services to continue, however, the Legislature must act to include the appropriation in the state budget before sending it to the governor for his signature.”
Legislative Support Since the governor unveiled his budget proposal in late August, several state legislators have expressed their opposition to the cuts to the mental health program. Multiple members of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee raised the issue during the interim commissioner of education’s hearing before the committee last Thursday, even though the program is administered by the Department of Children and Families. A bipartisan budget resolution has also been submitted that would restore funding for the program.
Public statements on the issue from various state legislators follows:
- Senator M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29), chair of the Senate Education Committee: “Six months into a global pandemic which has strained the mental well–being of people of all ages, and as we observe suicide prevention month, it feels surreal that we would even consider cuts to mental health services and crisis intervention in our schools. We are working in the Legislature to better identify students in need so we can connect more kids with the help available, not less. If we were to move these services to community centers we would stifle the number of children we are able to reach and countless individuals would lose the resources they currently rely on. I am committed to ensuring this funding is included in the 2021 budget and these programs are restored for the current school year.”
- Senator Anthony M. Bucco (R-25): “With overdose deaths up by 20% since the start of the pandemic, there couldn’t be a worse time for Governor Murphy to slash funding for school-based counseling, suicide prevention, and substance abuse programs. I’m extremely concerned that schools don’t seem to have been told by the Murphy administration that these State-funded resources won’t be available when they need them most. What the governor is doing is incredibly short-sighted. He needs to reverse course on this and do it quickly.”
- Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-27): “I had the opportunity to speak at a virtual rally to restore funding to the School Based Youth Services Program administered by the New Jersey Department of Children and Families. These programs are essential to students, particularly during these unprecedented times. I have sponsored a Budget Resolution for full funding for SBYSP as my top priority, and am committed to doing everything in my power to ensure that our students continue to reap the benefits of these essential programs.”
- Senator Michael J. Doherty (R-23): “In the midst of a global pandemic and economic crisis that is impacting the psychological health of New Jerseyans both young and old, it is cruel to cut funding for our student’s mental health services. This rollercoaster ride of a year and the uncertainty of the future is making many, particularly students, apprehensive and anxious. I am proud to stand with both my Republican and Democrat colleagues in the New Jersey Legislature and demand this mental health funding be restored immediately.”
- Assemblyman Jamel C. Holley (D-20): “I ask that the governor and state Legislature recognize the importance of this safety net not only in District 20, but throughout the state. There is no doubt that a $14 million investment now will save many millions more down the road, as neglected children become adults. Our governor needs to restore the money in the budget.”
- Senator Jim Holzapfel (R-10): “We are in the midst of a complete transformation of the school education system and these children have been through enough emotional challenges since the beginning of the shutdowns. Programs such as School Linked Services and the Municipal Alliance programs provide support beyond the home and classroom.”
- Assemblyman Gregory P. McGuckin (R-10): “These state funded programs help parents access behavioral health services for children and adolescents and have had a positive impact for so many families for years. These programs are vital to so many students and they are in jeopardy of closing entirely if they’re not fully restored.”
- Assemblyman John Catalano (R-10): “It’s no secret that drug abuse education and school counseling are major factors in keeping kids mentally and physically healthy. There are countless families that have no other methods of accessing the types of services these programs provide. All children deserve an opportunity to seek help at school and without programs such as this, I fear for the consequences that will follow.”