TRENTON – The Murphy administration will maintain funding for current school-based youth services programs through mid-2024 but is also proceeding with its plan to pivot to a new statewide approach to student mental health next school year.

The shift to the NJ Statewide Student Support Services (NJ4S) network rankled school officials and lawmakers because of the tight timeline for launching it and the scrapping of school-based youth services (SBYS) programs that have operated in some schools for decades.

So, the state now plans to fund both for the 2023-24 school year. It will issue a request for proposals related to the NJ4S model and, to minimize disruption, maintain the current SBYS funding in the 2024 state budget proposal Murphy will introduce next February and March.

“We look forward to continuing to hear from communities and work with stakeholders to advance this new model of care and provide critical services to students in every corner of our state,” said Gov. Phil Murphy.

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Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer of the Department of Children and Families said the plan for rolling out NJ4S for the 2023-24 school year, including 15 regional administrative ‘hubs’ and local service ‘spokes’ at schools, libraries and community centers, is “an ambitious but achievable timeline.”

Students, parents, school officials, and community and civic leaders will be named to advisory boards to help guide the hubs in meeting a community’s unique needs without replicating or duplicating existing supports.

“We have a very strong community-based provider network in NJ, and I look forward to reviewing the proposals we receive from the field, to move one step closer to making NJ4S a reality on the ground for all New Jersey students,” Norbut Beyer said.

Advocates for the existing 86 school-based youth services programs have fiercely defended them for a track record of life-changing and life-saving interventions. The grant program dates back to 1988. The Murphy administration proposed ending them in 2020 but relented in the face of opposition.

The state says NJ4S is an evolution of those programs bringing help to the approximately 2,400 other schools that don’t have a state-funded SBYS program and can’t add them in ways the state could afford.

The school-linked services program receives about $27.6 million in the current budget. The new system would cost nearly twice as much – but be available across all of New Jersey.

Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said he is pleased that state funding for existing programs will continue.

“These services are vital and need to continue so there is no lapse in any services,” Gopal said. “… At the same time – we should continue to pursue a statewide system so every child in the state has access to quality mental health services. The two can absolutely happen at the same time and I thank the Governor’s Office for going in this direction.”

The state said current programs will receive new contracts for July 1 with standardized reporting requirements, monitoring requirements and program expectations, to create consistency and ensure more thorough data collection among all providers.

The request for proposals to operate one of the regional NJ4S hubs will be posted by the end of November. Bids will be due by Feb. 1, with awards announced in March and funds paid out in April so the hubs can start opening in late spring and summer of 2023.

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