By Chris Lundy and Bob Vosseller
TOMS RIVER – School District officials had hoped to take a small step toward expanding their preschool program, but were denied state aid.
Superintendent Michael Citta said during a recent Board of Education meeting that they applied for a grant to convert two classrooms from half day to full day.
“It has to be done in very small stages,” Citta said.
The district has been wanting to expand preschool for years. The challenge lies in the funding. Even if they receive one-time state funding, adding staff becomes a cost that has to be spent every year after, so the district hasn’t yet made the jump to full time preschool. With Toms River being the largest suburban district in the state, providing preschool across the entire student body is an expensive undertaking.
District Business Administrator William Doering said they applied for a grant of $377,000 and were denied.
The grant that they applied for was from the state and would have come out of the FY2023 Budget. There were 27 districts that received funding totaling more than $26 million. Manchester, Plumsted and Eagleswood are the Ocean County districts that will be receiving aid, in the amount of:
- Eagleswood – $527,448
- Manchester – $3,076,056
- Plumsted – $700,648
Governor Phil Murphy and the Department of Education announced that the $26 million spent across the state would ensure that nearly 2,150 additional three- and four-year-old children will have access to a preschool classroom by increasing New Jersey’s preschool seats to nearly 70,000.
“We know that providing children with access to preschool programs creates short and long term educational and economic benefits for families,” Murphy said. “When we invest in preschool education, we also invest in our youth and in the future success of the State of New Jersey for decades to come.”
Acting Commissioner of Education Dr. Angelica Allen McMillan said, “I am excited to work with the 27 school districts receiving this funding to create and expand their community’s preschool programs. Governor Murphy’s continued budget allowance for high-quality preschool allows many young children an opportunity to attend preschool and reap the benefits of starting school earlier,” she added.
The NJDOE broadened the number of districts in July that could apply for this funding from those with 20 percent of students coming from lower-income families (defined by being eligible for free or reduced priced lunch) to districts with 10 percent of students who meet the income eligibility standards.
Manchester, Plumsted, Eagleswood and other school districts that will receive the grant award demonstrated to DOE that they can provide a high-quality preschool program to enrolled students.
A high-quality preschool program is defined by a full-day program with a certificated teacher, an aide, and small classes that are inclusive of children with special needs who have an individualized education program.
The FY2023 Budget appropriated $40 million to support grant awards to districts expanding existing preschool programs or districts creating new preschool programs. The remaining FY2023 funding will be awarded at a later time.