The Garden State Coalition of Schools would like to thank the Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee for the opportunity to provide testimony on the FY’21 budget...'
Budget Testimony Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee September 2020 The Garden State Coalition of Schools would like to thank the Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee for the opportunity to provide testimony on the FY’21 budget. It is impossible to overstate the unique and challenging nature of the FY’21 fiscal year. We are well aware of the dramatic economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis. Our members feel those consequences every day, as do all New Jersey school districts. We are relieved that K-12 school aid will remain unchanged from the figures released in July. Unbudgeted expenses for PPE, cleaning supplies, HVAC repairs and upgrades, facilities adaptation and/or reconfiguration, and additional specialized personnel are a fact of life for districts, and even with the recently allocated $100 million of Federal CARES Act funds, budgets will be stretched to the limit. Additional cuts in K-12 aid would have been extremely damaging. We are very conscious that districts that are gradually losing adjustment aid under the provisions of S-2 will continue to do so, despite the increased costs described above. In this extraordinary time, we respectfully ask that you consider pausing those adjustment aid reductions for one year, to allow those districts to adequately meet the needs of their students. If that is not possible, we ask that you ensure that the Department of Education continues to have an emergency fund available for possible distribution to districts demonstrating extreme hardship. This emergency aid, for which districts must apply, may be of some help in ameliorating the effects of increased, unbudgeted costs. Recent testimony by the Office of Legislative Services indicates that overall state revenues may be greater than predicted. If that is the case, and there is an opportunity to use some of those revenues for K-12 education, we ask that you consider increased funding for Extraordinary Aid for Special Education. This aid, which helps defray part of the cost for special education services in excess of established thresholds, helps every school district in the state. Expenditures for the most costly special education services (out-of-district student placements, highly individualized services and therapies) have risen well in excess of two percent every year for at least the last decade. We are legally and morally obligated to provide for our most vulnerable students. Increased Extraordinary Aid will help us do so. Finally, we strenuously oppose the elimination of the School-Based Youth Services (SBYS) programs. We feel this shortsighted move will result in the withdrawal of critical mental health and student support services delivered in schools—the places most accessible for the vast majority of students. The proposed expansion/reorganization of the state’s System of Care will not meet the same needs, nor have the save effectiveness as the existing SBYS. Student mental health and wellbeing is critical to school security. To abandon these successful programs now, when they are most needed, would be a potentially tragic mistake. Thank you for your consideration. Elisabeth Ginsburg Executive Director Garden State Coalition of Schools