Sweeney & Ruiz Conduct Forum to Identify Most Effective and Responsible Ways to Utilize Federal Education Funds
TRENTON – Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator M. Teresa Ruiz convened a forum today on the use of federal funds for education, where they brought together a broad array of educators, advocates, school officials and educational organizations to identify the most effective ways to utilize the aid allocated to public schools in New Jersey from the federal American Rescue Plan over the next three years.
Close to $2.5 billion is being sent directly to local school districts from the ARP’s Elementary and Secondary Emergency Education Relief Fund, providing a unique opportunity to address educational needs in a fiscally responsible way, Senator Sweeney said.
“The pandemic imposed an array of difficult challenges on educators, students and their families that should be addressed as effectively as possible,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “The substantial amount of federal aid offers a challenge and an opportunity to make sure these resources are used to improve the quality of education and serve the taxpayers. We want to bring together the individuals and organizations that are directly engaged in the education process so we take advantage of this opportunity. Today’s forum generated a discussion of good ideas and a collaboration on ways to turn the ideas into action.”
As schools gear-up for in-person learning in the 2021-2022 school year, it is important they make use of the federal aid to address long-standing needs as well as rectify problems created or made worse by the coronavirus shutdown, the Senators said. They should include upgrading school facilities such as heating and ventilation, addressing learning loss, improving technology, helping the social and emotional wellbeing of students and teachers, and responding to other needs impacting the educational experience.
“Over the last 18 months our students have faced unprecedented challenges, and while teachers and parents did everything in their power to support their academic success, many have fallen behind,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex), chair of the Senate Education Committee. “It is critical we are strategic in our use of federal funding, which is why I included budget language requiring the Department of Education to analyze the effectiveness of federal stimulus dollars on closing academic learning gaps, accelerating learning, closing the digital divide and improving the social and emotional well-being of students. Going forward, conversations like the one we had today, overall data and real time checkpoints will be important in ensuring we maximize the impact of each dollar spent on our students. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to not only deal with the impact of the pandemic but also work to close the achievement gap, we cannot afford to let it pass us by.”
The emergency ARP funding is in addition to the approximately $1.3 billion in federal aid from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act in March 2020 and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act in December 2020. School districts must have the funding obligated by September 30, 2024 and liquidated by October 13, 2024.
Participating in the roundtable were:
- Irene LeFebvre, President, New Jersey School Board Association;
- Dr. Lawrence Feinsod, Executive Director, NJSBA;
- Sean M. Spiller, President, New Jersey Education Association;
- Steve Swetsky, Executive Director, NJEA;
- Donna M. Chiera, President, American Federation of Teachers;
- Robert Colavita, Jr., President-Elect, New Jersey Association of School Budget Officers;
- Michael Vrancik, Director of Government Relations, NJASBO;
- Melanie Schulz, Director of Government Relations, New Jersey Association of School Administrators;
- Dr. Richard G. Bozza, Executive Director, NJASA;
- Jacqueline Burke, Executive Director, New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools;
- Christopher Nagy, Treasurer, NJCCVTS;
- David M. Aderhold, President, Garden State Coalition of Schools;
- Elisabeth (Betsy) Ginsburg, Executive Director, GSCS;
- Karen Bingert, Executive Director, New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, and,
- Debra Bradley, Director of Government Relations, NJPSA.
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