On Thursday, Dec. 2, the Senate and General Assembly convened for their first scheduled voting sessions since June. The Senate acted on a number of education-related bills, including several that the governor conditionally vetoed last month. The Assembly was also scheduled to vote on a number of bills the NJSBA had been actively tracking. However, the Assembly voting session was cut short after several members defied a new requirement that they submit either proof of a COVID-19 vaccine or a negative test result to enter the State House. Instead, the Assembly acted on just a handful of pressing matters, none of which directly affect local school districts.

Senate Voting Session

The Senate concurred with the governor’s conditional vetoes on the following education measures. They now return to the Assembly, which must also concur, before heading back to the governor:

Student Journalists’ Rights  S-108/A-169 concerns speech rights of student journalists at public schools and public institutions of higher education. Specifically, the bill provides that a student at a public school or a public institution of higher education who gathers, compiles, writes, edits, photographs, records, or prepares information for dissemination in school-sponsored media has the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press, and is responsible for determining the news, opinion, feature, and advertising content of the school-sponsored media. The bill does not protect student expression that: (1) is libelous or slanderous; (2) constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy; (3) is profane or obscene; (4) violates federal or state law; or (5) so incites students as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of an unlawful act, the violation of policies of the school district or institution, or the substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school or institution. The bill requires school districts to adopt a written policy by the first full school year following the date of enactment of this bill concerning student freedom of expression.

The NJSBA worked with its partners in other educational associations and successfully secured conditional veto language that will permit school district administrators to restrain student expression simultaneously with showing a justification for the restraint, rather than requiring that such a showing precede the restraint. This will ensure that students have the right to speak freely, while preserving the ability of administrators to maintain the safe and orderly operation of the school district.

Teacher Loan Redemption  S-969/A-2687 establishes a loan redemption program in the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority to allow teachers to redeem a portion of their New Jersey College Loans to Assist State Students  loan amounts for service as a teacher in a high-need field in a “low-performing school.” The governor conditionally vetoed the bill to include a $1 million appropriation to fund the program. He also recommended revisions to permit forgiveness of 25% of the principal and interest of the loan amount in return for each consecutive year of service, for up to a four-year period and a maximum redemption of $20,000.

Culturally Responsive Teaching  A-5312/S-2834 would mandate that all candidates for teaching certification complete a course on culturally responsive teaching. The bill defines “culturally responsive teaching” as a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning, using research-based teaching strategies that make meaningful connections between what students learn in school and their cultures, languages and experiences. As conditionally vetoed by the governor, the requirement goes into effect for the 2022-2023 school year.

Regionalization  S-3488/A-5537 modifies various procedures pertaining to school district regionalization. The bill also establishes a grant program for conducting regionalization feasibility studies in this voluntary program, as well as other financial incentives for districts to explore regionalization, particularly those that are losing state aid because of declining enrollment. Specifically, districts facing adjustment aid cuts would see those cuts phased in over eight years — stretched out from the current four years — if the districts involved choose to start a regionalization plan. An additional incentive provides that, through 2028-2029, newly established K-12 regional districts would receive the greater of the state aid to which the newly established district would be entitled, or the sum of the aid of what would have been provided to the constituent districts prior to the creation of the new regional district. In addition to the financial incentives, the bill establishes various flexibilities regarding implementation of a regionalization plan that are intended to make the process easier. Importantly, the bill maintains voter approval over any final decision to regionalize – a key NJSBA priority.

Following legislative approval of the bill, the NJSBA requested and obtained conditional veto language that will ensure consistency in the voting rights of all sending districts in a sending-receiving relationship. As passed by the Legislature, the bill would have granted limited voting rights to a district that belonged to a limited-purpose regional district, but it opposed the formation of an all-purpose regional and subsequently entered into a sending-receiving relationship with the newly-formed district.

The Senate also approved the following measures, which now head to the Assembly for further consideration:

Teacher Workforce Data  S-2835 requires compilation of data and the issuance of annual reports on the New Jersey teacher workforce. Specifically, the bill would establish the following reporting requirements concerning the current and projected teacher workforce in the state:

  • School districts will annually submit to the New Jersey Commissioner of Education information for the current school year on teaching positions, (e.g., vacant positions, the number of new teaching positions, the number of positions that were eliminated and anticipated teacher retirements).
  • School districts will also annually submit to the commissioner information on public school teacher retention, including the number of and reasons why teachers left employment with the district during the prior school year. The information would show the characteristics of the teachers who left the district, including age, sex, race and tenure status.
  • The New Jersey Education to Earnings Data System will issue a report on teacher workforce projections for the state for the following two years. After the issuance of this initial report, the Education to Earnings Data System will issue an annual report on teacher workforce projections for the subsequent three to five years.
  • The Executive Leadership Council of the New Jersey Education to Earnings Data System will semiannually report to the Legislature on the progress of the annual teacher workforce projection report.

Renaming “Security Aid” as “Health Safety Aid” S-3013 renames “security aid” as “health and safety aid” to reflect that secure schools provide for students’ mental health and well-being. Specifically, the bill changes all references of security aid to health and safety aid in the “School Funding Reform Act of 2008” and related laws to reflect that a secure school also includes students’ mental health. NJSBA supports the bill.

AAPI Instruction  S-4021 would require school districts to provide instruction on history and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders  as part of the implementation of New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Social Studies. The bill would also require a board of education to have policies and procedures in place pertaining to the selection of instructional materials that comply with the provisions of this bill. In adopting materials for use in the school district, a board of education would be required to adopt inclusive instructional materials that portray the cultural and economic diversity of the AAPI community. If enacted, the bill will first apply to the 2022-2023 school year.

Alternate Basic Skills Testing for CTEs S-4074 eliminates the requirement to pass a basic skills test to become a career and technical educator. As an alternative, a prospective CTE can demonstrate basic skills proficiency in a manner to be determined by the New Jersey Department of Education. NJSBA supports the bill.

Committee Activity On Monday, the following school-related bills received legislative committee approval:

Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee

Mercury Flooring  A-2078 requires new flooring for K-12 schools and childcare centers to be certified mercury free. A flooring manufacturer that issues a certificate that falsely states that a flooring product is free of mercury and compounds containing mercury will be liable to a civil penalty of $10,000 for a first offense and $25,000 for a second or subsequent offense. A Senate version of this bill, S-1715, was released from committee this past June and is awaiting full Senate consideration. NJSBA supports the bill.

Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee

FAFSA Graduation Requirement  S-3471 requires students to complete a financial aid application as part of high school graduation requirements. This bill provides that, beginning with the 2022-2023 grade 11 class, the State Board of Education will require that the local graduation requirements adopted by a board of education or a board of trustees of a charter school include the requirement that a student complete and submit a financial aid application in a form prescribed by the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority.  A student will be exempt from the graduation requirement if the student submits to the school district either of the following:

  • a form signed by the parent or guardian, or by the student if he is at least 18 years of age, requesting the exemption.
  • a form signed by the school counselor authorizing the exemption for good cause as defined by the State Board.

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

Electric School Buses  S-4077 requires the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to develop and implement an electric school bus program. The legislation provides for $15 million in the first year and $15 million annually in the subsequent two years to the department, subject to availability, to provide grants to support the program. NJSBA supports the bill, which can now be posted for a Senate floor vote.

Senate Labor Committee

Work Readiness Training Incentives  A-1534/S-1573 “New Jersey Works Act” permits businesses to create pre-employment training programs in partnership with nonprofit organizations or educational institutions; provides tax credit to businesses that provide financial assistance to pre-employment training programs. The bill provides a financial incentive for businesses to establish pre-employment and work readiness training programs in partnership with institutions of higher education, comprehensive high schools, county vocational schools, and nonprofit organizations. Under the bill, a business entity may receive a credit against the corporation business tax  or gross income tax  for 100% of any financial assistance provided to support a qualified pre-employment and work readiness training program approved by the State Employment and Training Commission.  A maximum of $12 million in tax credits per state fiscal year are allowed to be granted to taxpayers for assistance provided to an institution of higher education, a secondary comprehensive school, a vocational school, or a nonprofit organization for an approved pre-employment and work readiness training program. NJSBA supports the bill, which now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee

Expanding Eligibility for Special Ed Services  S-3298 allows certain persons with developmental disabilities 21 years of age and older to attend special education programs and to simultaneously participate in adult day and employment programs. The bill would permit adults with disabilities to receive services from both the Division of Developmental Disabilities and the local school district simultaneously.  NJSBA raised several concerns about the bill, including whether the bill imposes a new unfunded mandate on local school districts and the fact that the universe of students that the bill is designed to assist is currently ill-defined, leading to indeterminate costs for local districts.

Screening for Child Abuse S-3723 requires school districts to implement a training program for employees on the detection and prevention of child abuse during a public health emergency that requires remote learning, social distancing, or other restrictions on person-to-person contact. The bill was amended to make the training program an online module with free access for all school districts. The NJSBA supported the bill once it was amended.