NJ school districts: More funding and guidance needed because of the pandemic

The New Jersey School Boards Association conducted a second survey of members that showed that school districts want more clear guidance from the state and need more funding to cover extra costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Choosing the Best Road Back for Our Children: The Second in a Series of Reports on Education During the Pandemic,” which was released Aug. 31, is the follow up survey to an initial report in May that collected information and recommendations from school district leaders across the state on how schools were responding to the pandemic. The second report includes a series of recommendations about state and federal funding needs, the need for more guidance, and other challenges.

School district leaders in New Jersey who responded to the survey say guidance from state and federal officials is ever-changing, inconsistent, and often inadequate. Officials across the state say they need strong, universal health and safety protocols from the New Jersey Department of Health. The also say that districts’ efforts during the pandemic have a financial cost that could have negative consequences in other areas. Additional state and federal support is needed to purchase personal protective equipment and educational technology, and to frequently sanitize buildings and enable proper social distancing.

“Strengthening school districts’ ability to provide educational programs for all students safely and effectively during the pandemic will require more robust involvement by the state and federal government,” reads the report. “This includes financial support for pandemic-related expenditures, including increased transportation costs, statutory and regulatory flexibility, assistance in
securing personal protective equipment, and educational technology, and other strategies.”

In a July survey issued by the association, about 62 percent of superintendents and school business administrators said federal CARES Act funding was not sufficient to cover their districts’ needs in responding to the pandemic.

An analysis released earlier this year by a national organization representing superintendents and school business administrators estimated the cost of implementing health and safety protocols and determined that school districts nationwide can expect to spend about $490 per student for personal protective equipment, sanitizing supplies, and additional custodial staff and nurses.

“It is imperative that the state and federal government provide funding to cover costs associated with the purchase of personal protective equipment, technological devices, transportation, an disinfecting supplies that were not built into districts’ 2020-2021 budgets,” reads the association’s report.

The vast majority of school districts in New Jersey are moving forward with hybrid platforms that combine virtual and in-person instruction. In 66 school districts, plans involve full in-person instruction. An estimated 180 school districts have submitted virtual-only plans. The association report includes a review of plans from neighboring states and other countries as well.

To read the full New Jersey School Boards Association report, visit the NJSBA Website.