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Last fall Gov. Phil Murphy announced that, in response to the mental health crisis among students, he was ordering the New Jersey Department of Children and Families to create a statewide hub called the “NJ Statewide Student Support Services,” or NJ4S, which would take school-based services out of districts and put them in libraries and community centers, although some could remain in schools. With a budget line of $43 million, counselors would work to prevent issues such as suicide, teen pregnancy, substance use, and bullying for the state’s 1.3 million students.
This proposal has gone over poorly, as parents and mental health professionals decry the loss of school-based services. In fact, Murphy was forced to delay the launch for a year, until fall 2024. From yesterday’s Politico: “There’s a million reasons why you need these services in schools,” said Julie Borst, executive director of Save Our Schools NJ. “When you have services inside a school, it makes a tremendous difference to those students.”
“I’m concerned about the 2024 to 2025 school year,” said West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District Superintendent David Aderhold. “Once the NJ4S model is in place, will they pull away from school based youth services? The services need to be where the kids are,” he said. “Anything that doesn’t do that would be at the detriment of kids and their families.”
Funding for the school-based services will sunset the year Aderhold references. His concerns are shared by the superintendents of Trenton, Millville, and South Brunswick.
Borst sees Murphy’s announcement as politically-calculating:
Borst suspects Murphy may be using NJ4S to gain attraction nationally if he has higher ambitions, she said. The hub and spoke model is an innovative system that has never been tried before, she said, and Murphy could champion its success during a potential presidential campaign, though he has repeatedly ruled that out in public comments.
Borst argued that during a youth mental health crisis, the priority needs to be the kids. She doesn’t support Murphy’s proposal to spend funds on NJ4S instead of school-based services.
“There are lots of places where they could be putting that $43 million, and into some vanity project is not it,’” she added.