Several education-related bills advanced over the past week. A rundown of each follows below.
School Bus Cameras A-545 permits the use of video cameras to crack down on motorists illegally passing school buses. More specifically, the bill authorizes the use of a school bus monitoring system to assist in the enforcement of existing law that prohibits motor vehicles from passing a school bus while it is stopped to pick up or drop off students. Alleged school bus passing violations captured by such a monitoring system would be compiled into an evidence file and forwarded to the chief law enforcement officer of the municipality. If law enforcement determines that a violation has occurred, a summons would be issued. The money from any fines would be used for general municipal and school district purposes, including efforts to improve the monitoring and enforcement of the unlawful passing of school buses and the provision of public education safety programs. The bill would also increase the fines for any violations of the no-passing law, regardless of whether they are captured by a video camera or through police observations.
The New Jersey School Boards Association supports the measure. It was advanced by the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee on Nov. 30, and then by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Dec. 4. It may now be posted for a vote by the full General Assembly.
Youth Suicide Prevention A-3526/S-1662 would require the New Jersey Youth Suicide Prevention Advisory Council to prepare a report regarding suicide prevention instruction in public schools. The report would include, but not be limited to:
- Identifying the suicide prevention instruction currently provided to teaching staff members and students.
- Reviewing the effectiveness and sufficiency of such instruction.
- Identifying methods public schools may use to identify students who may be at risk for suicide or self-injury.
- Identifying best practices in public schools for the prevention of youth suicide and self-injury.
- Identifying opportunities to enhance access to mental health treatment in public schools.
- Findings and recommendations, including legislative and regulatory proposals.
In preparing the report, the council will conduct a survey to collect data from local school districts, approved private schools for students with disabilities, and charter and renaissance school projects. The council is required to submit the report to the governor and Legislature within 12 months following enactment of this legislation.
The NJSBA supports the bill, which may now be posted for an Assembly floor vote. If passed by the Assembly, the bill will head back to the Senate, which passed a previous version of the bill in February 2023.
Child Abuse Detection and Prevention Training S-2264 would take various steps designed to assist the New Jersey Department of Children and Families in detecting, investigating and preventing incidents of child abuse and neglect during a public health emergency. Regarding school district policy, the bill would require the New Jersey Department of Education and the NJDCF to develop an online training program for school employees on the detection and prevention of child abuse, including during a public health emergency that requires remote learning or other restrictions on in-person contact. The program would be made available to all school districts in the state free of charge to assist districts in meeting current requirements to train employees on the identification, detection, reporting and response to issues of child abuse.
The bill would also require that during a public health emergency that requires remote learning, social distancing, or other restrictions on person-to-person contact, school districts:
- Allow students and their families to remotely access information about NJDCF’s Family Helpline and other hotlines that offer support for children at risk of child abuse or neglect and their families.
- Provide a remote behavioral health assessment to every student who is deemed at-risk of child abuse or neglect as determined by a school psychologist, school counselor, or school social worker.
NJSBA supports the bill, and secured amendments to a previous version of the bill to ensure that child abuse detection and prevention training programs would be made available at no cost to school districts. The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. Its Assembly counterpart, A-2831, cleared through two committees earlier this session.
Cooperative Purchasing A-5687 would require certain contracting units, including boards of education and local contracting units under the Local Public Contracts Law, to determine and utilize cost-saving practices when procuring goods and services. Specifically, the bill would require the Division of Local Government Services in the Department of Community Affairs to create, and contracting units to utilize, a cost savings analysis tool. If the purchasing agent determines that entering into a cooperative purchasing system for the procurement of goods or services will result in cost savings, the contracting unit would be required to utilize a cooperative purchasing system, unless the procurement is for new building construction or expansion.
Additionally, the bill would require that, prior to entering into a contract for the procurement of any goods or services, the contracting unit ensure that the contractor and any subcontractors are compliant with existing state and federal laws, rules, and regulations including, but not limited to, employment discrimination, employment opportunity, wage requirements, and material and product sourcing. The bill would also require the director of the Division of Local Government Services in the Department of Community Affairs, in consultation with the commissioner of education, to develop harmonized guidelines for a local contracting unit, including boards of education, to enter into cooperative purchasing systems for the procurement of goods or services.
The NJSBA testified in support of the concept and intent of empowering districts to pursue cost-savings opportunities, including cooperative purchasing, but expressed concern that implementing a statewide requirement based solely on cost-saving potential could pose several logistical and service quality concerns. The bill next moves to the Assembly floor for further consideration.
Revisions to School Facilities Law and SDA Operations A-4496 would make various changes to the laws governing school facilities projects and the operations of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority. The Assembly Appropriations Committee made several amendments to the bill, which was approved by the Assembly Education Committee in February. Among other changes, the committee’s amendments:
- Removed provisions that would have increased a non-SDA district’s debt service aid by 15% if the non-SDA district constructed a project that conformed to the standards of the model school design program.
- Require that a prospective bidder seeking prequalification to bid on school facilities projects disclose whether, in the past five years, certain employees of the contractor and other individuals have been convicted of a criminal offense.
- Require that a contractor seeking prequalification undertake a moral integrity review.
- Remove provisions permitting a state funding mechanism for school facilities projects undertaken by charter schools and renaissance school projects physically located in an SDA district under provisions governing school facilities projects for SDA districts and regular operating districts.
- Create the Charter School and Renaissance School Project Facilities Loan Program, which would provide eligible borrowers with a loan, including but not limited to subordinate loans, to undertake or facilitate school facilities projects for nonprofit charter schools and nonprofit renaissance school projects located in an SDA district. The bill specifies a process under which, in the event that a charter or renaissance school ceases operating, the title to the charter or renaissance school – and any of the charter school’s outstanding debt incurred as part of the bill’s loan program – shall revert to the local district or the state.
The NJSBA expressed appreciation for the committee’s amendments shifting the state’s support for facilities projects in charter schools located in SDA districts from a grant program to a loan program. However, the Association and several other organizations noted concerns with the debt assumption language and expects those concerns to be addressed as deliberations on the bill continue. The bill next heads to the Assembly floor for further consideration. Its Senate counterpart, S-3247, has not yet moved.
To view the full text of any of the bills summarized above, please visit the New Jersey Legislature’s website.