On Aug. 16, Gov. Phil Murphy signed two education bills into law: A-5329 (P.L.2023, c.144), which extends the service life of certain school buses; and S-3950, (P.L.2023, c.140) which establishes an exemption from S-2’s scheduled state aid reduction for the Freehold Regional School District.
Extending the Service Life of School Buses: A-5329 (P.L.2023, c.144) extends the service life of school buses manufactured on or after Jan. 1, 2007 (or those manufactured before that date that have been installed with closed crankcase technology) and have a gross vehicle weight that does not exceed 25,000 pounds from 15 years to 20 years, while specifying that the longer service life may not be interpreted to “allow the use of any school bus for pupil transportation services if that school bus is determined to be unsafe or unfit for pupil transportation.” Regarding Type S school buses – buses with a gross vehicle weight rating of 3,000 pounds or more, originally designed by the manufacturer with a seating capacity of nine passengers or less excluding the driver – the law maintains current service life of 12 years but empowers the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission to extend the retirement date by one year upon request by the owner. To be granted such an extension, the bus must pass an additional inspection. A bus may only receive one such extension. The New Jersey School Boards Association supported the bill throughout the legislative process.
Freehold Regional State Aid Reduction Exemption: S-3950 (P.L.2023, c.140) establishes an exemption from S-2’s schedule of state aid reductions if the district meets the following conditions:
- Must be a regional school district consisting of at least five constituent school districts.
- The district has mitigated the cost of regionalization, as determined by the New Jersey Department of Education.
- The district’s per-pupil administrative costs are 15% less than the statewide average for regional school districts.
- The district’s general fund tax levy has been increased by the maximum amount permitted by law in each of the last five school years.
The bill further provides that if a district is exempt from a state aid reduction per these criteria, the district must provide courtesy busing if it was providing courtesy busing in the previous school year.
In announcing the legislation, primary sponsors Sen. Vin Gopal, Sen. Declan J. O’Scanlon Jr., and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin framed its purpose as to “encourage smaller school districts who are facing cuts due to declining enrollment to go towards regionalization and adding shared services,” citing Freehold Regional as a “model school district.” According to an estimate by the state’s nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services, the Freehold Regional School District is currently the only school district that would qualify for the exemption, though additional school districts may qualify in fiscal year 2025 if they satisfy the law’s criteria.
During the legislative process, the NJSBA testified, urging the Legislature to take a more holistic approach toward amending the School Funding Reform Act moving forward, rather than doing it through piecemeal legislation. The Association used that opportunity to reiterate its support for pending legislation (S-354), already passed by the full Senate, that would establish a School Funding Formula Evaluation Task Force. It also urged the Legislature to consider empowering school districts to address state aid reductions through tax levy growth cap flexibility.
To view the full text of any of the bills summarized above, please visit the New Jersey Legislature’s website.