Legislative Corner — March 2015

Legislative Corner

This webpage contains a summary of the most significant education-related policy developments that have occurred in and around the State House in recent weeks.  Please revisit this page periodically as it will be regularly updated with any new information that may be of significance to NJSBA members.

FY2016 Budget: State Aid Remains Essentially Flat

On February 24th, Governor Christie unveiled his proposed budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.  Overall, the state’s proposed budget calls for $33.8 billion in spending, a 3.1 percent increase over the FY2015 adjusted appropriation. Total state aid to school districts will total more than $9 billion, but remains remain essentially flat compared to FY2015, ticking up just slightly by $4.6 million.  Overall, state spending on K-12 education, which includes contributions to the Teacher’s Pension and Annuity Fund, post-retirement medical benefits, social security payments and school construction debt service, will rise by $811 million under the Christie budget, from approximately $11.94 billion to more than $12.75 billion.

Formula aid, preschool education aid, PARCC readiness aid, extraordinary special education aid, and most other categories of aid are slightly increased or remain at the same funding level as the current year.  In state education spending, only school choice aid and debt service aid saw significant increases. Nonpublic school aid, charter school aid, and school building aid all saw small decreases.

More specifically, the governor’s proposed education spending plan includes:

  • A slight increase of $1.9 million in formula aid for a total of $7.86 billion;
  • $2.7 million increase in preschool aid totaling $655.5 million;
  • $52.5 million in School Choice Aid, a $3.3 million increase from last year;
  • The continuation of the PARCC Readiness and Per-Pupil Growth Aid categories, again at $13.5 million per category;
  • The School Development Authority (SDA) assessment is again held harmless at the same level as last year’s $26.5 million total;
  • Charter school aid is decreased from $12 to $10 million;
  • $2 million for Opportunity Scholarships;
  • Non-Public School Aid is decreased $3.6 million to $85.5 million;
  • $63.4 million in debt service aid, a nearly 10 percent increase; and
  • Under Adequacy Aid, Extraordinary Special Education Aid and Supplemental Enrollment Growth Aid are all held flat.

The bulk of the funding increases for education are in the direct payments the state makes for teacher benefits and in SDA debt service. This year’s payment into the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund (TPAF) nearly doubles from $415.4 million to $802.4 million. Other increases include payments for post-retirement medical benefits, up $45.5 million to $1.1 billion for this upcoming year. Debt service for SDA projects also increases markedly from $520 million to $884 million in the projected budget.

New Jersey’s local school districts received notification of their projected state school aid under the governor’s proposed 2015-2016 budget.  District-by-district aid numbers are available here.

Follow the links below for a complete summary of the proposed budget as well as the NJSBA’s statement on the spending plan.

FY2016 Budget Summary

NJSBA Statement on FY2016 Proposed Budget

Study Commission Recommends Public Employee Benefit Reforms; Governor Endorses Plan

Governor Christie’s budget address focused largely on the state’s public employee pension crisis. He referenced a 51-page report by the New Jersey Pension and Health Benefits Study Commission and titled “A Roadmap to Resolution,” which was released on the same day of his speech.  The commission recommended freezing the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund at its current level (that is, not allowing any new benefits to accrue under that system) and creating a new program that would realign state and local district responsibility for pension and retiree health benefit costs.  The report proposes shifting the costs of education retiree health and retirement costs from the state to local school districts.  These costs would be offset by substantially reducing the cost of public employee health care.  The commission believes that the implementation of the proposed reforms would be cost neutral to local governments.

The commission’s recommendations, which the Governor publicly endorsed, would require changes in state law and voter approval of a Constitutional amendment.  The NJSBA will continue to review the recommendations of the study commission and advocate in the best interests of local boards of education.  In his March 9th Reflections column, which can be accessed here, NJSBA Executive Director Dr. Larry Feinsod discussed the report and the commission’s proposals. Below you can access the final report, a memorandum signed by commission members and NJEA representatives, and the commission’s status report from last fall.

A Roadmap to Resolution: Report of the New Jersey Pension and Health Benefit Study (Feb. 24, 2015)

Roadmap for Reform: An Agreement with the New Jersey Education Association (Feb. 24, 2015)

Truth & Consequence: Status Report of the New Jersey Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission (Sept. 25, 2014)

NJSBA has drafted sample resolution on the pension and health Benefits reform proposal.  Local school boards can use this sample resolution as the basis to express their beliefs on this issue.”

Assessment Study Commission Releases Interim Report; Assembly Advances Testing Bills

On January 20th, the “Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments” published its interim report.  The statewide panel was created by executive order and was appointed by the governor to study the volume, frequency and impact of assessments in New Jersey schools.  In the interim report, it recommended that the state, and districts themselves, should review the “universe of testing” in schools, and how it impacts instructional and learning time.

The commission is charged with reviewing and providing recommendations about the volume, frequency and impact of student assessments occurring throughout New Jersey school districts, including those administered for college admission. The commission is also examining possible recommendations regarding the Common Core State Standards and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers (PARCC) assessments.  Commission recommendations will be part of a final report due to the Governor.  Per the executive order creating the commission, those recommendations are due by July 31, 2015.  The NJSBA Executive Director Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod is a member of the commission. 

Following release of the interim report, the nine-member commission gathered public testimony on assessments at three separate hearings.  A user-friendly website was created to provide information on the work of the study commission and a mechanism for public input and feedback.
Meanwhile, as the study commission continues its deliberations, the General Assembly has considered several legislative proposals regarding standardized testing, including:

  • A-3077: Requires school districts and charter schools to annually provide to parents or guardians of enrolled students information on certain tests to be administered during the school year. (Passed Assembly)
  • A-3079: Prohibits administration of standardized assessments in kindergarten through second grade. (Passed Assembly)
  • A-4165: Allows parent or guardian to exclude student from administration of certain assessments. (2nd reading in Assembly)
  • A-4190: Imposes three-year moratorium on use of assessments developed by Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers for certain purposes. (Passed Assembly)
  • A-4268: Establishes Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers Task Force. (2nd reading in Assembly)

The NJSBA and Department of Education continue to provide school districts and other stakeholders with information regarding New Jersey’s student testing regime and protocol.  Board members are encouraged to review the NJSBA’s responses to frequently asked questions about a school board’s responsibility related to the administration of PARCC.  In addition, the Commissioner of Education has shared a letter he received from federal education officials declaring that states must assess all students, or risk losing federal funds.

Senate Committees Approve Superintendent Salary Cap Repeal

Legislation that would repeal the cap on superintendent salaries continues to advance through the legislative process.  S-1987, which would explicitly prohibit the Commissioner of Education from regulating the maximum salary a board of education may pay its chief school administrator, was released from the Senate Education Committee last June.  As the bill has a fiscal impact, it was second-referenced to the Senate Budget and Appropriations.  In February, the budget committee advanced S-1987, which may now be posted for a vote by the full Senate.  At both committee meetings, the NJSBA testified in strong support of the legislation.  The Assembly version, A-2930, has not been scheduled for a hearing to date. 

The regulations that established the superintendent salary cap are scheduled to expire in November 2016.  It is unknown whether they will be readopted, amended, or allowed to expire at that time.  Boards of education may express their formal support for repeal of the caps by adopting a resolution urging passage of S-1987/A-2930 and forwarding it to the Legislature, Governor and NJSBA.  To date, more than 80 boards of education from across the date have adopted such a resolution.

Legislation on the Move…

In addition to those mentioned above, the Legislature has advanced several education-related measures since the beginning of 2015.  The following constitutes a sample of bills that have particular relevance to NJSBA members and are expected to receive further consideration by the Legislature and/or Governor in the weeks and months ahead:

  • S-2484/A-3845: Requires DOE to conduct study on options and benefits of instituting later school start time in middle school and high school. (Passed Senate. 2nd reading in Assembly.)
  • A-1286/S-2439: Authorizes the establishment of federal impact aid reserve account.  (On Governor’s Desk)
  • A-448/S-165: Authorizes a teacher leader endorsement to the instructional certificate. (Passed Senate.  2nd reading in Assembly)
  • A-3256/S-2245: Requires teachers of health and physical education in grades kindergarten through six in public schools to possess the appropriate endorsement to the instructional certificate, and includes a "grandfather" provision. (Passed Assembly. 2nd reading in Senate.)
  • A-3360/S-2425: Requires each school district with middle school or high school to establish food services advisory committee to consider menu options that reflect students' cultural, traditional, and dietary preferences. (On Governor’s Desk)
  • A-3970/S-2659: Authorizes county vocational school district to request county improvement authority to construct and issue bonds to finance school facilities project. (On Governor’s Desk)
  • A-1499/S-2712: Requires school business administrator to annually report to board of education on district contracts. (On Governor’s Desk)
  • A-3441/S-1946: Permits school district to request and receive from MVC name and address of student's parent or guardian to verify student's eligibility for enrollment in school district. (Passed Assembly. 2nd reading in Senate.)
  • A-3224: Requires certain additional school district personnel to complete training program on suicide prevention. (2nd reading in Assembly)
  • S-1857/A-2699: Establishes measures to deter steroid use among students; appropriates $45,000 to DOE for New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association testing of student-athletes for steroids and other performance enhancing substances.  (Passed Senate. 2nd reading in Assembly.)
  • S-2453: Requires earlier mandatory polling hours for school elections; requires discretionary additional polling hours be consistent with current primary and general elections.  (Passed Senate)
  • S-2716:  Requires that school district's request for permission to use unrecognized position title include list of abolished positions and positions in which there have been layoffs and detailed job descriptions for them.  (Passed Senate)

New Education-Related Enactments

Thus far in 2015, the Governor has signed into law two measures impacting New Jersey’s school districts:

  • P.L.2015, c.15 (A-1796): Prohibits school district from denying student school breakfast or school lunch because payment is in arrears without prior notice to parent.
  • P.L.2015, c.13 (A-304): Requires schools to maintain supply of epinephrine and permit administration of epinephrine to any student having anaphylactic reaction.
  • P.L.2015, c.29 (A-3690): Allows student with disability to bring service animal on school bus.

For more information the new epi-pen law, click here and here.

Updated: 03/24/15