On Tuesday, Sept. 22, the Senate and Assembly budget committees released the fiscal year 2021 appropriations bill, which would fund government operations from October through next June. The budget leaves in place the amount of state aid to education that was proposed by the administration this summer, keeping overall fiscal year 2021 school funding at the same level as in the previous year.
Earlier this month, Sen. Teresa Ruiz, education committee chair, had introduced a resolution to increase state aid to education by $311 million over the amount proposed by the governor for the abbreviated fiscal year 2021 budget. The additional appropriation, however, was not included in the bills approved by the committees along party-line votes. The Assembly bill passed 9-4; the Senate bill was approved 8-4, with Democrats voting in favor.
School Based Youth Services The Legislature is boosting funding for the Department of Children and Families’ Office of School Linked Services, which administers the School Based Youth Services Program (SBYSP), to a total of $15 million. The SBYSP provides services such as mental health counseling, employment counseling, substance abuse prevention, suicide prevention, pregnancy prevention and sexual assault prevention.
NJSBA Executive Director Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod thanked the lawmakers for their continued support of the program.
“The School Based Youth Services Program has been one of the state’s most effective efforts to serve the mental health and social-emotional needs of students and their families,” he said. “These services are critical during the current public health crisis, which has increased isolation and anxiety.”
The SBYSP provides supports, such as mental health counseling, employment counseling, substance abuse education and prevention, preventive health awareness, and primary medical linkages, in the school setting.
NJSBA advocated strongly for the restoration of funding for this critical program in which nearly 100 schools currently participate. On Sept. 10, Gov. Murphy announced his support for funding the program, which would have been reduced to less than $5 million under his original proposal
Extraordinary Special Education The appropriations bill increases aid for extraordinary special education by $25 million, a 10% increase over the 2019-2020 total appropriation of $250 million. In its testimony to the Senate and Assembly budget committees earlier this month, NJSBA had urged the Legislature to increase special education funding.
Tax Agreement Enacting a budget became a lot easier when legislative leadership and the governor came to agreement on a millionaire’s tax deal late last week. Under this agreement, taxes on income over $1 million will increase from 8.97% to 10.75%. Also, families making under $150,000 will be eligible for annual tax rebates of $500.
Education Appropriations Other school-related legislative additions, which are subject to the final approval of the governor, include:
- $10 million for “Shared Services and School District Consolidation Study” implementation grants, up from the $3 million proposed by the governor. In fiscal year 2020, $10 million was also appropriated for these grants, but the funding was frozen this past spring to help the state address the financial crisis brought on by the pandemic.
- Up to $5 million for an “Education Rescue Grant Program” to support the costs of rehiring or retaining teaching staff members, or hiring similar teachers. This provision is modeled on pending legislation, S-2870, sponsored by Sen. Nicholas Scutari, to help school districts retain staff members in the wake of the freeze in state aid due to COVID-19.
- $4.5 million for a “Supplemental Wraparound Program” that would provide aid to former Abbott districts to reduce family cost-sharing for before-school, after-school, and summer wraparound childcare.
A vote on the budget has already been scheduled by the full Senate for Thursday, Sept. 24. The General Assembly is expected to schedule a vote on that same day or on Sept. 25. From there, the appropriation act will go to the governor who will have until Oct. 1 to take action. Any of the legislative add-ons, such as those cited above, will require his sign off.
The full text of the spending bills, along with documents highlighting the Legislature’s changes to the governor’s proposal, can be found on the Office of Legislative Services website here.