You would be hard-pressed to find a sector more impacted by the coronavirus pandemic than a state’s education system. Remote learning, quarantines and disrupted schedules have taken their toll on students, educators and school districts.
Both financial and ancillary support is now on the way, through the New Jersey Department of Education’s (DOE) The Road Forward plan. Four coordinated initiatives will focus on assisting students and educators in the Spring, next school year and beyond.
“We know our students and educators have had a difficult year,” said Gov. Phil Murphy. “Providing our school communities with increased flexibility and support is essential to move our education system forward. The additional federal funds will allow districts to best meet the individual needs of their students during this challenging time.”
A part of this plan includes making $1.2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds available to districts, including grants dedicated specifically to research-based instructional and mental health interventions.
Comprehensive Approach to Support
“Educators and students have endured a great deal over the past eleven months,” said Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, DOE Acting Commissioner. “These additional federal funds will support targeted initiatives to enhance academic enrichment and mental health interventions for all students and educators.”
While monetary funding is a must, the plan also creates two assessment programs and a clearinghouse for best practice resources. Also included is a request to waive federal requirements to administer statewide standardized assessments for the 2020-2021 school year.
“We’ve yet to fully grasp the level of learning loss and disruption to our children’s social and personal growth, but it is critical that we get out in front of this issue as quickly as possible,” said Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-6), Chair of the Assembly Education Committee. “We must address the inevitable academic disparities caused by this public health crisis and to do this it will require an investment in learning enrichment programs and increased student mental health support.”
Grants and Federal Funds
During the announcement of the plan, Allen-McMillan explained that multiple funding opportunities totaling $1.2 billion will be released on March 15.
Grant opportunities, totaling $105 million, will aid districts in providing additional academic and mental health supports.
- The Learning Acceleration Grant, consisting of $75 million, will support research-based academic enrichment activities in STEM, literacy, and the arts, including summer learning academies and one-on-one tutoring. All school districts will be eligible for funding, though it will target low-income districts most in need of support.
- A $30 million mental health grant will be established to assist districts in implementing school-based mental health supports for all students and educators. This grant will assist school districts in building a tiered, sustainable intervention model of comprehensive mental health supports and services.
The remaining funding will be available through ESSER II funds (Federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021, Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund).
“Investing federal funds to directly support our students’ learning and mental health needs will help them emerge stronger and better prepared deal with the challenges and seize the opportunities that lie ahead,” said Marie Blistan, President of the New Jersey Education Association.
To assist school districts as they plan for funding usage, the DOE has created a clearinghouse to share successful practices used to navigate the pandemic.
Categorized by county, district size, and topic area, the clearinghouse has been designed to facilitate meaningful collaboration and learning opportunities between similarly-situated districts.
Focus on Student Readiness
The Road Forward also creates two assessments to ensure students are achieving meaningful growth toward grade-level standards.
In the fall of 2021, all districts will be provided with Start Strong assessments. This program will better enable districts to collect timely, actionable, standards-based student performance data at the beginning of the school year.
A new pilot program, the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA) will be administered to incoming kindergartners. It will measure school readiness in the domains of social foundations, language and literacy, mathematics, and physical well-being.
The KRA tool will help both educators and families identify resources that individual students may need access to.