Gov. Murphy signed the state budget inside the Patriots Theater at the Trenton War Memorial, while some protestors outside wanted financial relief for undocumented immigrants. Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Above:The New Jersey budget is signed  into law on Tuesday.

Facing pushback from educators, parents and youth advocates, Gov. Phil Murphy restored funding in the state budget to school-based youth services that support mental health programs, suicide intervention and other services for some of the state’s most vulnerable children.

Murphy’s $32.7 billion state budget, signed Tuesday, provides $15 million to the Department of Children and Families’ Office of School Linked Services. The office had faced program cuts early in September as state leaders tried to close a $6 billion budget hole created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Critics said the school-based programs were needed because they already provided support to students at a time when the pandemic had isolated children and teenagers, disrupted their routines and left many vulnerable to mental health problems.

In many districts, including Brick and Lakewood schools, the money funds counseling and crisis intervention services. 

In New Brunswick, school-based youth services provides day care for teen parents enrolled in school. At Pinelands Regional in Little Egg Harbor, the money funds, among other things, dating violence prevention programs. In Red Bank, the programs help to raise money for nutritious meals and rent support for students living in poverty.

“I am so extremely happy that our voices were heard and that we were able to effect change and save this program,” Brick mother Lauren Blann, whose son uses the services, said in a Facebook message to the Asbury Park Press.

“These services have been a lifeline for my son and I am grateful that he and thousands of other kids in the state of New Jersey will continue to have access to them,” she said. “School-based services should never have been on the chopping block, especially in the midst of all the stress children and families are feeling during this pandemic, but we fought back and we won.”

Nick Spanola, a counselor and crisis intervention specialist at Brick Memorial High School, lost his job when the cuts were announced in early September, said he was glad to learn that the funding had been restored.

“These programs are going to stay in place and help students during these unfortunate times, and continue to help them moving forward, too,” he said.

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Amanda Oglesby is an Ocean County native who covers Brick, Barnegat and Lacey townships as well as the environment. She has worked for the Press for more than a decade. Reach her at @OglesbyAPP, [email protected] or 732-557-5701.

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