In communication to the legislative leadership, Senate and Assembly budget committees and the Murphy administration, NJSBA is strongly urging the continuation of services that have been provided to school districts through the Department of Children and Families (DCF) School Based Youth Services Program.

The governor’s proposed budget for the nine-month 2020-2021 fiscal year, to begin Oct. 1, would cut funding for school based youth services by $12 million, compared to his original FY 2021 budget proposal, reducing the total allocation for the vital program to $5 million.

“The School Based Youth Services Program is one of the state’s most effective efforts to serve the mental health and social-emotional needs of students and their families,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director, pointing to the Association’s research on student health and wellness. “During the current public health crisis, which has increased isolation and anxiety, these services should not only be maintained, but also strengthened and expanded.”

In a Sept. 4 letter to Christine Norbut Beyer, DCF commissioner, Jonathan Pushman, NJSBA director of governmental relations, stressed the importance of the program, which operates in approximately 90 school districts. The correspondence was also sent to Gov. Murphy, the state treasurer, and the Senate and Assembly leadership.

“The SBYSP provides students – in a school setting – with critically important supports, such as mental health counseling, employment counseling, substance abuse education and prevention, preventive health awareness, primary medical linkages, and learning support,” he wrote.

“We fully recognize that many hard choices will need to be made to address the economic realities brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we do not believe that cutting critical services provided through the SBYSP is an appropriate way to meet these budgetary challenges.”

As of Sept. 3, more than 25,000 individuals have signed an online petition urging the restoration of funding for the SBYSP.

In response, the DCF has indicated that the reduction reflects a restructuring of the state’s Children’s System of Care. In testimony submitted this week to the Senate and Assembly Budget Committees concerning the proposed FY 2021 budget, NJSBA expressed the hope that the services are in fact enhanced by the restructuring and urged the Legislature, through the budget process, to ensure that such enhancement takes place.