The NJSBA supported a package of school lunch bills that were recently heard but not approved in the last legislative session. They were re-introduced on Feb. 13 in the Assembly Education Committee.
While NJSBA supported the bills, it expressed concerns about establishing the School Meal Fund. The Association requested that this fund not be mandatory. The sponsor explained that the reason for the mandate was that no district should ever refuse a donation for this purpose.
The package of school lunch bills that moved forward in the Assembly Education Committee are as follows:
Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act A-1104 requires certain school meal information be provided to students’ parents; establishes protocols for identifying eligible students for meal programs; prohibits stigmatizing students with bills in arrears.
Meal Access A-1630 clarifies that a school district is not required to restrict access to school meals if a school meal bill is in arrears.
Free or Reduced Price Meals A-1631 requires school districts take certain actions to increase participation in free or reduced priced meal programs; prohibits shaming students with school meal bills in arrears; prohibits certain district actions in collecting unpaid school meal fees.
School Meal Fund A-1632 requires school districts to establish a “School Meal Fund” to assist students with school meal bills in arrears.
In other legislative action in the Assembly Education Committee, a bill requiring the state to return local control to a district, if that district satisfies 80% or more of the state’s N.J. Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJ QSAC) requirements, was approved by the committee with amendments. The legislation, A-1040, provides that in the case of a school district under partial or full state intervention, the state must withdraw from intervention in an area of school district effectiveness in which the district has satisfied 80% or more of the quality performance indicators in that area. The bill provides further that the New Jersey Commissioner of Education and the State Board of Education may not use any other factor in making the determination to withdraw from an area of state supervision if the district meets or exceeds the 80% threshold. NJSBA supports the bill.
Senate Education Committee
(All bills were released by the committee except for S-1032.)
Rights of Student Journalists S-108 concerning free speech rights of student journalists at public schools and public institutions of higher education was discussed. NJSBA did not comment because the issue falls on the administration of the district. The N.J. Principals and Supervisors Association and N.J. Association of School Administrators opposed the bill.
Civics Instruction Two civics bills were heard and approved by the committee. NJSBA had testified in the last session that middle schools are already teaching civics as part of the social studies curriculum. S-237 requires new civics instruction in middle and high schools and requires school districts to use the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) curriculum guidelines for civics. The bill requires NJDOE to provide funding to enhance civics instruction. S854, known as “Laura Wooten’s Law,” requires civics instruction in middle school and authorizes the New Jersey Center for Civic Education at Rutgers University to provide curricula, professional development and technical assistance for middle and high school civics. The bill provides $300,000 annually to the Rutgers center.
Other bills approved Feb. 13 by the Senate Education Committee included:
Student Tardiness S-311 prohibits a school district from denying admittance to student due to tardiness or violation of a dress code or school uniform policy. NJSBA supports the intent of S-311 but requested clarifying language to address the issue of discipline if a student fails to follow the dress code. NJSBA will support the bill with the amendment.
Dropout Prevention S-316 establishes the Office of Dropout Prevention and Reengagement of Out-of-School Youth in the NJDOE and would require the new office to collaborate with school districts in the development of a statewide strategic plan to address student dropouts. The new office would also recommend and develop programs to prevent students from dropping out of school and address issues associated with the re-enrollment of students who have left school prior to graduation. NJSBA supports the bill.
Feminine Hygiene Products S-692 requires school districts to provide feminine hygiene products in certain public schools and requires the state to pay costs. S-692 requires school districts to ensure that students in grade 6 through 12, in which 40% or more of the students meet federal poverty guidelines multiplied by 1.85, have direct access to feminine hygiene products in at least 50% of the school bathrooms free of charge. Any costs incurred by a school district in complying with the provisions of this bill will be borne by the state. NJSBA supports the bill.
Amistad Commission S-1028 requires the commission to include instruction on accomplishments and contributions of African Americans to American society. NJSBA supports the bill.
Comprehensive Eye Exams S-1032 A bill requiring young children entering public schools or Head Start Programs for the first time to have comprehensive eye exams was held by the Senate Education Committee pending further technical review.
Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee
On Feb. 13, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee advanced the following NJSBA-supported legislation:
Incentivizing Electric School Buses S-228 requires the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) to develop and administer a loan program to facilitate acquisition of electric-powered school buses by school districts and school bus contractors. Under the bill, the EDA would enter into a loan agreement with a district or contractor that has received program approval. The EDA would then provide a loan that would cover the difference in cost of purchasing an electric-powered school bus instead of a traditional diesel or gasoline-powered school bus.
Teacher Loan Redemption Program S-969 would establish a loan redemption program in the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) to allow teachers to redeem a portion of their NJCLASS loan amounts for service as a teacher in a high-need field in a “low-performing school.” NJSBA supports the legislation and believes that incentives, such as grants and loans, should be made available to attract outstanding students to the teaching profession, particularly in areas of critical shortage. The Association also believes that loans should be forgiven for students who agree to teach a certain number of years in areas of critical shortage. If the bill receives final approval in its current form, up to $1 million could be appropriated to the program.
Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee
Joint Health Insurance Purchasing S-750 would permit municipalities and boards of education to jointly contract for group health insurance benefits and other types of group insurance benefits for their employees. According to the sponsor, this bill would provide these local governments with additional flexibility to work together to lower costs.
Sharing Payments in Lieu of Property Taxes S-984 requires municipalities to share certain payments received in lieu of property taxes with school districts. The bill would require that counties and school districts be informed of an application for property tax exemption. This bill, a long-time NJSBA advocacy goal, was released unanimously.