On Monday, Feb. 14, both houses of the Legislature approved legislation (S-1414/A-2063) that will delay the delivery of the governor’s budget message for fiscal year 2023 by two weeks. Originally scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 22, the legislation would push the budget speech to Tuesday, March 8. According to news reports, this delay will allow the governor to make his budget speech in-person in the General Assembly Chamber for the first time in two years. Gov. Phil Murphy, who requested the postponement, signed the bill into law Tuesday, Feb. 15.
Typically, the governor makes his budget address on the fourth Tuesday of each February. However, the state Legislature traditionally grants a new governor serving in his or her first term extra time before a budget must be presented to lawmakers. In either event, school districts are notified of their state aid figures for the upcoming fiscal year within two days of the governor’s address. Therefore, the delay in the delivery of the budget message will also postpone state aid notification to districts, which will affect various local school district deadlines.
In years past, whenever the governor’s budget was delayed, the Department of Education also extended several key dates related to the development and approval of school district budgets. For example, the department extended the budget submission deadline to provide local boards of education sufficient time to prepare and submit an itemized budget to the executive county superintendent of schools. It is anticipated that the department will issue a revised budget calendar for school districts now that the state budget message has been delayed.
School Funding Task Force, Due Process Measures Advance
At its voting session, the Senate also approved two other education-related measures.
The first, S-354, would establish a “School Funding Formula Evaluation Task Force.” The seven-member task force would be charged with studying, evaluating and assessing the current state school funding formula. Six public members will be appointed by legislative leadership (two each by the presiding officers of each house and one by each minority leader). The seventh will be a representative from the New Jersey Department of Education. The task force will study the effectiveness of, and provide recommendations on potentially improving various aspects of the formula, including but not limited to:
- The manner in which school district adequacy budgets and local shares are calculated.
- The current methodology of measuring and weighting at-risk students and students with limited English proficiency and the impact on the educational outcomes of those students.
- The weights applied to students in different grade levels, as well as those applied to students enrolled in county vocational school districts.
- The current methodology used to calculate the geographic cost adjustment.
- The formula’s use of the census-based funding methodology for determining the amount of state aid a school district receives to educate its special education population and the effects of potentially employing different methodologies.
- The provision of extraordinary special education aid and the cost thresholds used as the bases for reimbursement of extraordinary special education costs.
- The methodologies used to calculate security categorical aid and transportation aid.
- The impact that the reallocation of state school aid pursuant to P.L. 2018, c.67, commonly referred to as “S-2,” had on school districts’ finances.
The task force would hold a series of public hearings around the state to seek input and gather testimony on the effects of the current school funding formula and potential areas for improvement within the formula from education stakeholders, such as education finance experts, school leaders, school business officials, school board members and members of the public. The task force will issue a final report detailing its findings and recommendations no later than one year after it organizes. NJSBA supports the legislation.
The Senate also approved S-905, which extends the period of time for filing special education due process petitions related to COVID-19 school closures and periods of virtual, remote, hybrid, or in-person instruction. Currently, parents have two years to file a due process petition with the Office of Administrative Law. This bill would allow a parent, guardian, or local educational agency to file a request for a due process hearing regarding the identification, evaluation, educational placement, or the provision of a free and appropriate public education of a child with a disability during a COVID-19 school closure or a period of virtual, remote, hybrid, or in-person instruction occurring between March 18, 2020, and Sept.1, 2021, at any time prior to Sept. 1, 2023. This essentially extends the time to file a petition up to approximately 18 months, depending on the date a party knew, or should have known, about the alleged action that forms the basis for the complainant to file a petition for a due process hearing. The extra time is intended to provide parents time to work out new learning plans for their children with school districts without having to file for a hearing with the state’s Office of Administrative Law.
As originally introduced in the previous session, the bill would have extended by two years the amount of time that a parent could file a COVID-related due process claim – increasing the statute of limitation for such claims to a total four years. NJSBA had concerns with that proposal and worked closely with the sponsor and other stakeholders in crafting amendments to the bill. The Association now supports the legislation. Its Assembly counterpart, A-1281, has also cleared committee and the measure is expected to be sent to the governor in the coming weeks.
Committee Approves Food Insecurity Package
On Monday, the Assembly Agriculture and Food Security Committee advanced a package of 10 bills designed to fight hunger and reduce food insecurity among New Jersey residents. A few of the bills aim to expand public awareness and student eligibility for school meal programs:
A-2365: Requires the Department of Agriculture to engage in public education campaign to educate parents and guardians of students about existing and expanding school meals program options in New Jersey.
Current law requires the Department of Agriculture, in consultation with the Department of Education, to develop pamphlets and other promotional materials for the state’s school meals programs and provide such promotional materials to every school district in the state, for distribution to the parents and guardians of students who are enrolled at schools in the district. This bill would expand this existing promotional requirement by requiring the DOA, in consultation with the DOE, to additionally develop and implement a formalized, statewide public education campaign that is designed to educate parents and guardians, throughout the state, about the various school meals program options that are available to students in New Jersey.
A-2368: Requires schools to provide free school breakfasts and lunches to students from working class, middle-income families; designated as the “Working Class Families’ Anti-Hunger Act.”
This bill would alter existing law to require every school to offer a school lunch program and a school breakfast program, regardless of the percentage of students at the school who are federally eligible for free or reduced price school meals, and it would further require each school to provide free school breakfasts and lunches to all middle-income students enrolled at the school, including when such meals are offered to students through a breakfast after-the-bell program or an emergency meals distribution program (which is activated during a period of school closure resulting from COVID-19). Each school district, and the Department of Agriculture, would be required, by the bill, to publicize to parents and students the fact that free meals are being made available to middle-income students under these school meal programs, pursuant to the bill’s provisions.
Costs associated with expanding the availability of free school meals would be borne by the state to avoid imposing an unfunded mandate on districts. Specifically, the bill would require the state to provide funding to each school district, as may be necessary to reimburse the costs associated with the district’s provision of free meals to middle-income students who are federally ineligible for such meals under the National School Lunch Program or federal School Breakfast Program
ACR-109: Urges the United States Congress to pass the “Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021.”
This federal legislation would provide free breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack to all schoolchildren regardless of their socioeconomic background. The legislation also eliminates school food debt and reimburses schools for all delinquent school meal debt.
The NJSBA is currently reviewing the entire bill package.