By Hayley Slusser
(MIDDLESEX COUNTY, N.J.) New Jersey leaders last month announced a proposal to award $317.2 million for various projects at schools across the state, including in Middlesex County, through the initial round of the Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act (SOCFBA).
The SOCFBA grants will fund school security, water infrastructure improvements and enhancement of career and technical education at county vocational-technical schools and county colleges. The first round of grants are supported by $500 million in bonds, which were approved by voters in 2018.
The proposed funding allocation was approved by Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.), Acting Commissioner of Education Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan and Secretary of Higher Education Dr. Brian Bridges, and will be voted on in the Legislature in the near future.
“I have long believed that investments in our students and schools are investments in the future of our state,” Murphy said in a statement. “These projects will help our school districts and institutions of higher education keep students safe and healthy, while also ensuring that they are ready for the careers of (the) future.”
The proposal has support from multiple state lawmakers, including Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), Sen. Ron Rice (D-28), Assemblyman Daniel Benson (D-14) and Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-28).
Approximately $220.1 million will be awarded to vocational schools statewide for projects that increase student capacity, including renovation, construction, related demolition projects, site improvements, furniture, and equipment. The East Brunswick campus of the Middlesex County Vocational and Technical Schools is set to receive about $23.1 million in funding from the first round.
For county colleges, $26 million in funding can be used for building or expanding classrooms, laboratories, libraries, computer facilities and other buildings in order to expand career and technical education (CTE) programs. Middlesex College will receive close to $3 million.
Judy Savage, executive director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools, said the funding for CTE programs will help students better prepare to enter the workforce and develop skills in a number of fields.
“We are grateful to the Legislature, the Murphy Administration, and voters across New Jersey for supporting this significant investment in county vocational schools and community colleges to prepare more young people with skills, certifications and degrees needed to fill critical jobs in key NJ industries,” Savage said in a statement.
In addition to these CTE programs, the first round of the SOCFBA funding also includes $5.6 million for K-12 schools to improve their water supply infrastructure through construction, reconstruction, repair, rehabilitation or replacement. In Middlesex County, New Brunswick Public Schools will receive $2,111 and South River Public Schools will receive $5,670.
Schools will also receive funding for security projects, including the installation of silent panic alarms to alert law enforcement as is required under Alyssa’s Law, which was passed in 2019. Security funding can also be used for lighting and signage improvements, surveillance cameras, intercoms, remote locking/unlocking doors, shatter-resistant glass, generator installation and impact-rated vehicle barriers.
All school districts in Middlesex County will receive grants or security, excluding Cranbury and Metuchen. A total of $65.4 million for security will be allocated to 494 grant recipients statewide.
Applications for the first round of funding opened to schools in October 2020. Details regarding the second round of funding and how to apply are set to come at a later date.