A host of education-related bills were approved in committee or floor votes in the Legislature during the past two weeks. The following provides a rundown of legislative activity that impacts New Jersey’s students and public school districts.
Thursday, Dec. 7
ASSEMBLY VOTING SESSION
Evaluation Waiver for Supervising Teachers A-336 waives the annual teacher evaluation requirement for certain teachers who supervise student teachers. Under the “Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey (TEACHNJ) Act,” teachers are evaluated annually based on multiple measures, including measures of student achievement. Under this bill, a teacher who is rated highly effective under the evaluation system for at least two consecutive evaluation periods, or is rated effective or a combination of effective and highly effective for three consecutive evaluation periods, and who accepts responsibility to supervise a student teacher in the following school year, will have the annual evaluation requirement waived during the school year in which the teacher supervises the student teacher. A teacher whose annual evaluation requirement is waived under the bill’s provisions is not precluded from supervising a student teacher in subsequent school years with the approval of the school district’s chief school administrator. NJSBA is monitoring the legislation, which has not been introduced in the Senate to date.
SENATE VOTING SESSION
Electronic Procurement A-2220/S-1729 authorizes local units of government subject to “Local Public Contracts Law” and “Public School Contracts Law” (i.e., boards of education) to use electronic procurement technologies. The bill authorizes local units to use electronic procurement practices for such purposes as may be authorized by the governing body of the local unit. The bill requires a local unit that uses an electronic procurement system to continue to publish advertising bids and requests for proposal in the local unit’s official newspaper.
The NJSBA believes that boards should be able to take advantage of electronic procurement technology and practices that result in streamlined purchasing procedures and more efficient use of taxpayer funds. Therefore NJSBA, along with its local government partners at the N.J. State League of Municipalities and N.J. Association of Counties, strongly supports this legislation. The bill returns to the Assembly, which unanimously passed a prior version of the measure, to concur with Senate amendments.
Recruiting Minority Teachers S-1472 directs the New Jersey Commissioner of Education to establish a pilot program to recruit male residents of New Jersey who are from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds to enroll in the alternate route teacher preparation program and to match them with teaching opportunities in a chronically failing school. The legislation defines a chronically failing school as one in which in each of the prior two school years: 1) the sum of the percentages of students scoring in the “not yet meeting expectations” and “partially meeting expectations” categories in each of the language arts and mathematics subject areas exceeded 40 percent; or 2) the sum of the percentages of students scoring in the “not yet meeting expectations” and “partially meeting expectations” categories in either the language arts or mathematics subject areas exceeded 65 percent. The education commissioner would select six such schools to participate in the program. Two years after the establishment of the program, the commissioner would submit a report to the governor and Legislature regarding the implementation of the pilot program, including a recommendation on the advisability of continuing and expanding the program.
NJSBA supports the measure, which has not moved in the General Assembly to date.
Thursday, Dec. 14
SENATE BUDGET & APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE
Financial Literacy A-3396/S-2885 directs the State Board of Education to require that a school district incorporate financial literacy instruction for pupils enrolled in grades kindergarten through eight. The purpose of the instruction will be to provide elementary and middle school students with the basic financial literacy necessary for sound financial decision-making. The instruction must meet the requirements established by the State Board and must be appropriate to, and reflect the age and comprehension of, the students enrolled in the particular grade level; and include content on budgeting, savings, credit, debt, insurance, investment, and other issues associated with personal financial responsibility as determined by the State Board.
NJSBA supports the measure. If approved by the full Senate, the bill will go to the governor. If signed into law, the bill will go into effect at the beginning of the next school year.
Summer Meal ProgramsA-4906/S-3371 requires each school district and nonpublic school in New Jersey to notify each student, and the student’s parent or guardian, of the availability and criteria of eligibility for the summer meals program and the locations in the local school district where the summer meals are available. Notification would be made by distributing flyers provided by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. Additionally, school districts and schools are permitted to provide electronic notice of the information through the usual means by which the school district or school communicates with parents and students electronically.
NJSBA supports the bill. The measure already passed the full Assembly and is now primed for a Senate floor vote.
Online Applications for School MealsA-4908/S-3372 would require the N.J. Department of Agriculture, in consultation with the NJDOE, to develop and make available to each school district and nonprofit nonpublic school participating in the National School Lunch Program or in a school breakfast program, an internet-based online school meal application for eligible students. Schools would be encouraged to make the online application available. A participating school district that implements the online school meal application would also be required to continue to make paper applications available.
NJSBA supports the bill. If approved by the full Senate, the bill will return to the Assembly to concur with Senate amendments before going to the governor.
Fire Safety InitiativeS-3416 directs the Division of Fire Safety in the Department of Community Affairs to conduct a survey of fire suppression systems in all public and nonpublic school buildings in the state and to provide those results to the New Jersey Department of Education. According to the bill statement, many school buildings in the New Jersey were constructed decades ago and do not have adequate fire suppression systems installed, and many others have systems that are not fully operational. The state cannot properly address this serious problem without accurate information regarding the status of fire suppression systems in every school building. This bill would provide the appropriate agencies with the information necessary to take appropriate action in the future. NJSBA is monitoring the legislation.
The bill’s identical Assembly counterpart, A-5074 , also continues to advance and was released by the Assembly Appropriations Committee this past Monday.
Monday, Dec. 18
ASSEMBLY HEALTH & SENIOR CITIZENS COMMITTEE
Regulating Use of Restraints/Seclusion A-501/S-1163 establishes requirements for the use of restraint and seclusion on students with disabilities in school districts and approved private schools for students with disabilities (PSSDs). The legislation also requires the NJDOE to annually collect and publish on its website data from school districts and PSSDs on the number of students on which the district or PSSD used restraints or seclusion and the number of times restraints or seclusion were used.
NJSBA is monitoring the measure. The bill may now be posted for an Assembly floor vote. If passed, the bill will return to the Senate to concur with amendments made in the Assembly.
SENATE BUDGET & APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE
School Panic AlarmsA-191/S-2313 requires school buildings to be equipped with an emergency light and panic alarm that is linked to local law enforcement. Specifically, the legislation requires that all public schools be equipped with a panic alarm for use in a school security emergency including, but not limited to, a non-fire evacuation, lockdown, or active shooter situation. The panic alarm, which will not be audible within the school building, must be directly linked to law enforcement authorities and must immediately transmit a signal or message to the authorities upon activation. The bill also requires that all public schools be equipped with a red emergency light that is affixed to the exterior of the school building in a highly visible location above or near the front entrance visible from the nearest public roadway or, if the school building is not visible from the nearest public roadway, then on that roadway. The bill requires that the emergency light be linked to the school’s panic alarm so that it turns on when the panic alarm is activated. With respect to funding, the bill directs that the proceeds of bonds authorized to be issued to fund the state share of the costs of Schools Development Authority district school facilities projects or the state share of the costs of school facilities projects in all other districts be used to fund the full cost of the panic alarms and emergency lights.
The legislation, which has been vetoed twice by the governor, includes the NJSBA’s recommended amendments that inserted a source of funding to offset school districts’ implementation costs. Therefore, the Association supports the measure. If passed by the full Senate, the bill will hit the governor’s desk for the third time.
ASSEMBLY APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE
Combatting Chronic AbsenteeismA-2352/S-447 requires the education commissioner to include the number and percentage of students who were chronically absent and the number and percentage of students who received a disciplinary suspension on School Report Card data. The bill also requires that, in the event that 10 percent or more of the students enrolled in a public school are chronically absent, the school must develop a corrective action plan to improve absenteeism rates. In developing the corrective action plan, the school must solicit input from parents and then present the plan to the board of education. The school would annually review and revise the plan until the percent of students who are chronically absent is less than 10 percent.
During earlier deliberations on the bill, the NJSBA expressed concerns over the definition of chronic absenteeism in the original version. As a result, the bill was amended to provide that the NJDOE will determine the definition of chronic absenteeism through regulation instead. NJSBA will continue to monitor the bill’s progress. The bill unanimously passed the Senate in June and may be posted for a vote by the full Assembly.
Gas Tax Exemption for School BusesA-4281/S-2748 exempts fuel used for the operation of school buses from the Petroleum Products Gross Receipts Tax and the motor fuel tax. Under the bill, the exemption from the tax applies to fuel that is used for school buses operated for the transportation of pupils to or from school or a school-sponsored activity or event by a religious or other charitable organization or corporation, or by a person under contract with a public or governmental agency or a religious or other charitable organization or corporation.
Currently, if a school district operates its own school buses, the school district uses tax-exempt fuel for those buses. However, if a school district uses contracted school bus transportation, the contractor does not receive a fuel tax exemption. Thus, the contractor includes the cost of the fuel, including the fuel taxes the contractor pays, as part of the contract cost with the school district. According to the Office of Legislative Service, by exempting certain purchases of fuel made by private school bus operators, local school districts that contract for transportation services with private school bus operators may realize cost savings through a decrease in future contract costs if the savings realized by such operators from the purchase of the newly tax-exempt fuel is passed along to the districts.
The NJSBA supports the bill, which has already passed the full Senate.
Dual Language ImmersionA-4318/S-2704 requires the New Jersey Commissioner of Education, with the approval of the State Board of Education, to develop a program to award grants to school districts and charter schools to develop dual language immersion programs. Under the program, the commissioner will provide grants to school districts and charter schools to develop dual language immersion programs in Chinese, Spanish, French, or any other language approved by the commissioner. A school district or charter school may be eligible to receive funds if it uses an instructional model that provides at least 50 percent of its instruction in English and 50 percent of its instruction in the other language. The program would have to begin in kindergarten or grade one and would need to meet any other requirements established by the commissioner. The bill establishes the Dual Language Immersion Program Fund to finance the grant program, which would be credited with money appropriated by the Legislature, any gifts, grants, or donations made to the fund, and any other available revenue.
NJSBA supports the measure, which has already passed the full Senate.
Fire Safety InitiativeA-5074 directs the Division of Fire Safety in the Department of Community Affairs to conduct a survey of fire suppression systems in all public and nonpublic school buildings in the state and to provide those results to the Department of Education. The bill’s Senate counterpart, S-3416, was released by the Senate Budget and Appropriations last week (see above). Both bills are now primed for floor votes in their respective houses.
Cooperative Sports ProgramsA-5254 requires the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) to allow public high schools in the same school district to enter into a cooperative sports program for any sport at the varsity level if either of the schools demonstrates an inability to field a team at the varsity level due to: a decline in interest or participation in the sport at one of the schools that impacts the ability of that school to safely field a team; or budgetary constraints which force the elimination of certain sports programs at one of the schools. Under the current rules of the NJSIAA, schools are prohibited from entering into cooperative sports programs for basketball, baseball, softball and spring track, and in football if one of the schools is classified as a Group III school. This bill requires the NJSIAA to allow the schools to enter into cooperative sports programs regardless of the sport or the member schools’ Group classification.
The bill’s upper house counterpart, S-3447, was scheduled for a Senate floor vote Thursday, but was pulled in order to make amendments. The NJSBA is monitoring the legislation and will our members apprised of its progress.
SENATE VOTING SESSION
Child Abuse HotlineA-3655/S-2728/S-3310 requires a board of education to display information about the New Jersey Department of Children and Families’ State Central Registry, a toll-free hotline for reporting child abuse, in each school of the district. The information must give instructions to call 911 for emergencies and must include directions for accessing the department’s website or social media platforms for more information on reporting abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Under the bill, the information is required to be in a format and language that is clear, simple, and understandable. The information must be on a poster and displayed at each school in at least one high-traffic, highly and clearly visible public area that is readily accessible to and widely used by students.
NJSBA supports the bill. The bill will now return to the Assembly, which passed a previous version of the bill, for final legislative approval.
HIB Reporting ImmunityA-4457/S-3559 extends immunity to certain private school officials who report incidents of harassment, intimidation, or bullying (HIB). Under this bill, board of directors members and employees of approved private schools for students with disabilities who promptly report an incident of HIB to the appropriate school official designated by the school’s policy or to any school administrator, and who make this report in compliance with the procedures in the school’s anti-bullying policy, will be immune from a cause of action for damages arising from any failure to remedy the reported incident. This provision will provide the same immunity that is currently given to members of a school board and school district employees under the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.”
The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.