TRENTON — Using some funds from the federal COVID-19 stimulus package, state officials said Friday that more than $1 billion dollars will be made available for New Jersey school districts to reinforce education programs and mental health programs.

The state’s acting education commissioner, Angelica Allen-McMillion, said that the New Jersey Department of Education [NJDOE] would be releasing two “substantial tranches” of funding on March 15. The announcement was made during Gov. Phil Murphy’s coronavirus press briefing on Friday, held live on YouTube.

The governor called the education department’s funding program “the most comprehensive plan being put forth by any American state.”

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“It’s not just the money [sic] that each of the districts and schools will get, but it’s what can we do … to layer on top of that base amount of money a couple of programs that we think are unique in America right now that we believe and the experts believe will address both learning loss and mental health challenges,” Gov. Murphy said.

Ms. Allen-McMillion said $1 billion in federal funds has been made available in the new round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funding.

“We must continue to use a data-driven approach to inform student growth and achievement, which is even more important in the current education environment,” she said, adding that her department would be collecting data from school districts in the application for the grants, to get a better picture of learning gaps created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 was signed into law on Dec. 27, 2020. The law provides an additional $54.3 billion for the national Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.

The department will also make available a $105 million program to aid districts in providing academic and mental health support. Referred to by Ms. Allen-McMillion as the Learning Acceleration Grant, the grant will support research-based STEM and literacy programs as well as summer learning academies and one-on-one tutoring. The grant is meant to help low-income school districts, she said, but all districts in the state are welcome to apply. The NJDOE also announced plans to establish a $30 million grant to help districts in the creation of mental health support systems for students and staff.

Both grants will be made available to regular school districts, vocational schools and charter schools.

Awarded funds will be made available to districts through Sept. 30, 2023.

“The 2020-2021 school year has changed how educators, students, parents and caregivers experience education in New Jersey,” the acting commissioner said.

Also announced on Friday was the state’s request to the federal government to waive statewide assessments.

If granted, districts will not be required to administer statewide assessments this spring, which includes the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment, which is taken by students in third through ninth grades between March 15 and June 11.  Other state assessments, such as Dynamic Learning Maps and ACCESS would also be waived.

“Given the need to ensure our students’ instructional time is maximized and the levels of stress on them, our educators, our school administrators our parents and families are minimized, we are putting forward the waiver request,” Gov. Murphy said.

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