South Brunswick School District seeks understanding from state after not receiving preschool expansion aid

Gov. Phil Murphy (center)

The South Brunswick School District is seeking understanding from the state on why they were not one of the 27 school districts selected to receive preschool expansion aid for the 2022-23 school year.

Schoos Superintendent Scott Feder said the letter from the state says “absolutely nothing” except that the district did not get the aid.

“We have really been gearing up for [free, full-day preschool] and we even have a displaced teacher that we knew was a possibility based on this,” he said.

Gov. Phil Murphy and the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) announced the 27 school districts that would receive the first portion of the $40 million [over $26 million] in grant awards allocated in the fiscal budget for 2023 in early September.

Feder said during a South Brunswick Board of Education meeting in September that the district administration’s goal is to find out where the district did not get the points that would have allowed for South Brunswick to receive the state grant aid.

“That way we can hopefully have the chance to apply again. But, applying again without this information I do not know if I would put our staff through that to be honest with you,” Feder said.

“Because if it has to do with the free and reduced lunch percentage and that number does not change it would be kind of hard to put us through all of this work.”

The awarded grant funds for the districts ensures that nearly 2,150 additional three- and four-year-old children will have access to a preschool classroom by increasing New Jersey’s preschool seats to nearly 70,000, according to the governor’s office.

It allows for districts to expand already existing preschool programs or establish new preschool programs. The 27 districts awarded funding began full-day preschool programs in early October.

Those school districts included Howell Township’s school district ($2.29 million), West Long Branch School District ($249,426), and Springfield school district ($1.21 million).

The remaining fiscal year 2023 will be awarded at a later date, according to the governor’s office.

This summer the NJDOE invited school districts to apply for a share of $40 million in state funding to help districts expand or establish preschool programs.

“It was hundreds of man hours of time, well worth it, even if we did not get it, we had to try to get what we can for our community,” Feder said.

In July, the NJDOE had broadened the number of districts that could apply for preschool expansion aid funding from those with 20% of students coming from lower-income families (defined by being eligible for free or reduced priced lunch) to districts with 10% of students who meet the income eligibility standards, according to the governor’s office.

Feder said the district is seeking information on where they fell short in the state’s point system.

“If we don’t understand why, it is kind of hard to keep taking a test you do not know why you are failing,” he said. “If do get information about why we were not awarded the grant and one of these reasons is [partnerships] then we will do that. We did not have time to find a partner, we were only notified in July.”

Feder also suggested that another reason they may have fell short could be that the district’s percentage of free and reduced lunch is too low.

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