Trenton – In an effort to better connect students and families with available social services the Senate Budget Committee today advanced legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Shirley Turner which would establish a five-year community school pilot program and create the Office of Community Schools.
“Community schools present a holistic, collaborative approach. They transform educational spaces into settings that care for the whole student, addressing physical, social, and emotional wellbeing in addition to academic achievement,” said Majority Leader Ruiz (D-Essex). “They improve outcomes by tailoring services to the needs of the district and connecting families with the resources available to them. Not only will this benefit the students enrolled in these schools, but the entire community.”
The first bill, S-2771, would establish a five-year Community Schools Pilot Program within the Department of Education, which would be managed by a nonprofit organization or institution of higher education selected by the commissioner. Under the bill, up to 21 schools would be assigned a site coordinator to assist in the establishment and operations of a community school.
“Many students enter the classroom with non-academic challenges, such as housing instability, food insecurity, and mental and emotional distress, which impact their ability to learn and develop to their full potential,” said Senator Turner (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Our schools present a logical setting to connect our most vulnerable families to the assistance programs available to them. This pilot program will transform our schools into a community hub of resources, allowing us to better serve our students, their families, and uplift our neighborhoods.”
A second bill, S-4029, would establish an Office of Community Schools and appropriate $10 million to fund it. Under the bill, the office would provide training and support for schools looking to adopt community school strategies, provide grants to support their efforts and keep a list of districts which have established community schools.
Community schools are partnerships between public schools, nonprofit organizations and local governments to provide an integrated focus on academics, health, social services and youth and community development. They facilitate expanded learning time opportunities while actively engaging families and fostering collaborative practices based on the individual community’s identified needs.
The bills were released from committee by votes of 9-3 and 8-4, respectively.