Yesterday the New Jersey Assembly Budget Committee held a hearing on Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed $48.9 billion budget and, at least briefly, K-12 education was center-stage. You wouldn’t know it from traditional media coverage–only NJ Spotlight bothered to report on the discussion—but for those who pay close attention to the devastating impact of two years of pandemic learning, the demeanor of Murphy’s Acting Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan is worth recounting.
From Spotlight’s John Mooney:
[W]hile the Democratic-led committee has typically been deferential to the Murphy administration’s top education officials, this was no normal year, as education leaders got a bipartisan earful about the slow progress in addressing some long-standing — and some new — challenges facing the state’s schools…The learning loss — or at least the perception of it — was a persistent line of questioning over the four-hour hearing. And nothing could have made the legislators’ impatience clearer than the closing words from the committee’s chair, directed at acting education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan.
‘This is not a ‘I-gotcha’ hearing, but we have got to do better,’ said Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, chair of the Assembly’s budget committee. ‘The children don’t have time to wait. They really don’t have a couple of months to wait. The urgency is now.
A Republican member of the committee, Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, was more direct. Citing results of the state’s Start Strong assessments that showed 8.9% of Trenton traditional district students are approaching or reaching grade-level standards in math, Munoz asked Allen-McMillan, “Is there a long-term plan? Why are we not addressing this more clearly? In some cases, we have students who are two years behind.”
Allen-McMillan replied that the Murphy Administration’s priority was to bring back “normalcy” and focus on mental health issues. “This is not about remediation but acceleration,” she said. “The learning loss on paper may look abysmal, but we see this as an opportunity to advance learning.”
Munoz and Assembly members on both sides of the aisle asked the Acting Commissioner about how schools were spending the $4 billion in federal emergency funds to ameliorate learning loss and “pressed the administration to better guide those efforts.”
‘Do we need summer school? Longer school days?’ Munoz said. ‘I see a lot of words, but not where any of it is in the budget.’ Added Pintor Marin, citing tens of millions in federal funds not yet spent: ‘I don’t know who to criticize. Is it the districts? Is it the department? All I know is we have children who can’t wait anymore.’
(Photo courtesy of NJ Spotlight)