TRENTON, N.J. – Assemblywomen Kim Eulner and Marilyn Piperno say the Department of Education’s directive to schools requiring additional Start Strong assessments in the fall fails to help students who need the extra support now. The Monmouth County lawmakers argue it illustrates the Murphy administration’s lack of planning and funding to address already proven learning loss.
“Students took these same assessments last fall and the traditional ones in the spring. We also have a study from a New Jersey nonprofit that looked at the impact government-mandated, union-supported school closures had on education and the results were startling. We don’t need another test to tell us students have suffered academically from forced remote learning, quarantines and masking requirements,” Eulner (R-Monmouth) said. “Republicans pushed the education commissioner for a solid plan to address Covid learning loss during budget hearings and it’s obvious there still isn’t one.”
In September, schools will be required to administer computer-based tests measuring student proficiency in math and reading in grades 4-10. Results from last fall revealed about half of all New Jersey students in grades 4 through 6 began the school year needing the strongest academic support. Forty-nine percent of fourth graders scored in the lowest category in math and 41.5% scored in the lowest category in reading.
During an Assembly budget hearing in April, committee members Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz and Assemblyman Brian Rumpf pressed acting education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan on the administration’s spending and lesson plans to address students’ two-year learning loss. Allen-McMillan could not detail a statewide plan or the costs to help schools grapple with education gaps and mental health issues.
“The money in the budget for learning loss is woefully insufficient, especially in light of the state’s record-high spending and unexpected revenues,” Piperno (R-Monmouth) said. “Our students need academic, developmental and mental health support, tutors, therapists and counselors available and prepared to step in starting on the first day of school. Unfortunately, schools are left to scrape together their own plans while the Murphy administration insists on stressing students with yet another test to confirm, once again, they are behind.”
Only $2.25 million of the state’s $50.6 billion budget is earmarked for Covid learning loss. One million will be spent on a report, another $1 million will support a small-group tutoring program, and $250,000 is dedicated to developmental therapies like speech.
The Assemblywomen say they support investigating the educational impacts of government-mandated lockdowns and executive orders during the pandemic, but that any study should also include the physical, mental and behavioral health of children, domestic violence, financial losses and trauma. They have a bill (A3827) that requires several state agencies to study Covid’s impact on children.
“Republicans have been sounding the alarm since the beginning of the pandemic on the dire consequences of executive orders, school shutdowns, masking requirements, business closures and social isolation. Children are arguably among those who suffered the most harm,” Eulner and Piperno said. “The Murphy administration has largely dismissed our concerns and we fear our children will end up paying the price.”