On Dec. 23, Gov. Murphy approved legislation that would provide districts relief from the periodic monitoring and district self-evaluation system known as NJQSAC. NJSBA strongly supported the measure throughout the legislative process.
“We are pleased that the governor signed this important common-sense legislation,” said NJSBA Executive Director Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod. “The NJQSAC relief bill approved by the Legislature will help school districts focus their resources on responding to the disruption caused by the pandemic.”
The NJSBA worked closely with the bill’s sponsor, education advocacy groups such as the N.J. Association of School Administrators, the NJDOE, and the governor’s office. The NJSBA offers its sincere thanks to the bill’s primary sponsor, Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti, for his leadership in spearheading this measure through the Legislature.
NJQSAC relief has been part of the Association’s “pandemic advocacy agenda.” That agenda calls for additional federal and state financial support, statutory and regulatory flexibility in budgeting, assistance in securing PPE, and other changes to strengthen the ability of school districts to provide education during the public health crisis.
Under the legislation signed by the governor, A-4975/S-3187, districts that are required to undergo an NJQSAC review in the current (2020-2021) school year, and which were designated as “high performing” in their most recent review, will automatically have this year’s review postponed until their next scheduled review in the 2023-2024 school year. Any districts that do not wish to have the review postponed will have to make a request to the commissioner of education.
Any district scheduled for review this year that was not designated as high performing would be eligible for a one-year postponement. Districts would have to provide written notification to the commissioner of education that they are not able to complete the review due to the impacts of the pandemic.
The NJSBA has actively advocated for relief from the NJQSAC process throughout the public health emergency. In May 2020, the NJSBA issued Searching for a New Normal: A Special Report on the Reopening of New Jersey’s Schools. In that report, the NJSBA recommended that districts be given the financial and regulatory flexibility they need by suspending or revising NJQSAC so that districts are not penalized for taking actions necessary to address the pandemic. That same month, the NJDOE provided limited relief to districts by suspending those indicators of NJQSAC that required in-person inspection or interaction.
In August 2020, with districts trying to meet the challenges of safely reopening their schools, the NJSBA issued a second report, Choosing the Best ‘Road Back’ for Our Children. In that report, the NJSBA renewed its call for further NJQSAC relief during the pandemic, which this new law provides.
Senate Voting Session
The Senate held a voting session on Dec. 17 and approved the following education-related bills:
Assessing COVID-Related Learning Loss S-3214 requires the commissioner of education to prepare two reports on the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on public schooling. The first report will be a learning loss report that identifies and quantifies the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on student academic outcomes. The second report will be a report on the continuation of school services during the same period.
The NJSBA supports the intent of S-3214, which sets a framework for the assessment of student learning during the pandemic. The required study and report would be an important step toward developing a funded strategic plan to help address remediation. However, the NJSBA also recognizes the strain that the current emergency has placed on staff and resources. Therefore, during committee deliberations on the bill, the Association cautioned against the imposition of any additional responsibilities on staff that would take away from districts’ top priority — advancing student learning and achievement while protecting the health and safety of both students and staff. NJSBA’s position statement on the bill can be found here.
The bill now heads to the Assembly, which has yet to take up the proposal.
Anti-Bullying Law RevisionsS-1790 — The Senate unanimously approved amendments to the state’s harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) law which NJSBA supports. The changes to HIB reporting and investigation include:
- Placing a renewed emphasis on a supportive school climate and culture as a means to combat HIB.
- Creating the funded position of School Climate State Coordinator in the NJDOE to serve as a “one stop shop” for HIB information and resources for parents, students, and school staff. The office will also coordinate and collaborate with law enforcement and other agencies on HIB efforts.
- Preserving the board’s role in HIB oversight and parental appeals.
- Requiring funding for the “Bullying Prevention Fund.” The fund shall be used to offer grants to school districts to provide training on harassment, intimidation, and bullying prevention and on the effective creation of positive school climates, and to help fund related personnel expenses.
The bill now heads to the Assembly Education Committee for consideration.
Diversity and Inclusion Instruction A-4454/S-2781 requires school districts to include instruction on diversity and inclusion as part of the implementation of New Jersey Student Learning Standards. Under the bill, instruction would:
- Highlight and promote diversity, including economic diversity, equity, inclusion, tolerance, and belonging in connection with gender and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, disabilities, and religious tolerance;
- Examine the impact that unconscious bias and economic disparities have at both an individual level and on society as a whole; and
- Encourage safe, welcoming, and inclusive environments for all students regardless of race or ethnicity, sexual and gender identities, mental and physical disabilities, socioeconomic status, and religious beliefs.
Under the bill, the commissioner of education will provide school districts with sample learning activities and resources designed to promote diversity and inclusion. NJSBA supports the legislation.
The bill returns to the Assembly, which passed a previous version of the bill, to concur with amendments made by Senate committee.
Governor Approves Amendments to New Health Benefits Law
On Friday, Dec. 18, Gov. Murphy signed the following bill into law and it went into effect immediately:
“Chapter 44” Amendments A-4905/S-3045 (P.L.2020, c.137) allows health insurers to provide certain health care benefit plans to local boards of education and eligible employers who do not participate in the School Employees Health Benefits Plan (SEHBP), and modifies employee contributions for the New Jersey Educators Health Plan (NJEHP) and its equivalent. This measure amends P.L.2020, c.44, the school employees’ health benefits reform legislation signed this past summer. Commonly referred to as “Chapter 44,” that law requires districts to offer new health benefits plans to employees and alters the amount that employees who select the new plans must contribute to their insurance coverage. This legislation clarifies that the salary on which an employee’s contribution is based is capped at $125,000. In other words, an employee with a salary greater than $125,000 would pay the same amount towards his or her health benefits as an individual making $125,000. This amendment is consistent with the original intent of the legislation and is intended to alleviate confusion and ensure consistent application in the field as districts continue to implement the new law.
The bill also addresses concerns among some private insurance carriers that they are not permitted to offer the NJEHP due to conflicts with existing N.J. Department of Banking and Insurance (DOBI) regulations. S-3045 allows health insurance companies to provide health care benefit plans that are equivalent to the NJEHP, notwithstanding the provisions of any other law, rule, or regulation, including any regulation of DOBI, to the contrary. This provision also applies to the Garden State Health Plan, which must be established by July 2021.
Upon the measure becoming law, the Assembly sponsors issued the following joint statement: “In order to provide equal access to health coverage, this law clarifies that New Jersey boards of education and other qualified employers are eligible for equivalent health coverage plans as those offered to school boards that participate in the SEHBP. Many districts choose not to participate in the state program for various reasons, so this will give them the option to access similar plans even if they are not an SEHBP participant. The law also ensures that SEHBP members will not have to pay excessive premiums if they are a high earner by capping their contribution at the amount required of educators earning $125,000.”