On Feb. 9 and 13, the Assembly Education and Senate Budget and Appropriations Committees, respectively, met to advance various pieces of legislation relating to PreK-12 education.
Assembly Education Committee
Revisions to School Facilities Law and SDA Operations A-4496 would make various changes to the laws governing school facilities projects and the operations of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority. Feb. 9 was the third time the committee discussed the bill; it discussed a previous version of the bill Oct. 17, 2022, and discussed wide-ranging amendments that were made to the bill on Dec. 8, 2022. The version approved by the committee Feb. 9 reflects many of the changes that were made on Dec. 8, 2022, including, importantly: removal of the bill’s original requirement that the Legislature authorize school facility projects in SDA districts; adding a requirement that charter or renaissance school facility projects adhere to all public school facility regulations and Public School Contracts Law; and codifying the current SDA school design processes in lieu of the October version’s “Model School Design” proposal. In addition to reflecting those changes, the Feb. 9 version also makes additional amendments in key areas. A summary of the version of the bill approved Feb. 9 follows below.
School Facilities Projects of Charter and Renaissance Schools in SDA Districts
- The bill would provide a state funding mechanism for school facilities projects undertaken by charter schools and renaissance school projects physically located in SDA districts. Charters schools and renaissance school projects located in SDA districts would be eligible to receive funding for 100% of the final eligible costs of the project.
- To secure the funding, a charter school or renaissance school project would submit an application to the SDA. The SDA, in consultation with the New Jersey Department of Education, would annually review the applications and thereafter create a statewide charter school and renaissance school project facilities strategic plan to be used in the sequencing of school facilities projects of charter schools and renaissance school projects in SDA districts.
- The bill lists certain priority areas that would be used for the determination of critical need in the review of school facilities projects of charter schools and renaissance school projects physically located in SDA districts. The priority areas mirror those used by the NJDOE for the fiscal year regular operating district grants.
- The bill also includes certain limits on the use of state funds for charter or renaissance school facilities projects in leased facilities.
Regular Operating District Projects
The bill would:
- Require non-SDA school facility projects with estimated total costs over $10 million to be overseen by a nonconflicted construction management service provider.
- Allow a school district to raise bonds for a school facilities project without the approval of the voters of the district if the school district enters into a contract with one or more municipalities, wherein the municipality provides the district with not less than 60% of the payments in lieu of taxes received from one or more designated properties, and the district pledges those monies to the repayment of the bonds. However, after entering into the contract, the school district would also be required to submit an application to the commissioner before issuing the bonds without voter approval.
- Permit the board of education of a non-SDA district to enter into an agreement with a county improvement authority to construct a school facilities project and to issue bonds to finance certain portions of the project.
- Permit a board of education of a school district to draw against its capital reserve account in order to finance a portion of a project for which a school district and private entity enter into a public-private partnership agreement pursuant to current law.
Model School Designs
- The bill would codify the SDA’s “Model Schools Program,” which, according to the SDA, “strives to balance the benefits of standardization with the recognition that each SDA school district and project are unique.”
- All projects in SDA districts would be required to conform to the standards of the Model Schools Project.
- If a non-SDA district constructs a project that conforms to the standards of the model school design program, the district aid percentage, which is used to calculate the district’s debt service aid, would be increased by 15%.
SDA Finances and Operations
The bill would:
- Require that SDA’s administrative costs would be annually supported by state appropriations, rather than financed by EDA bonds.
- Require the SDA to establish four funds in which the net proceeds of the bonds issued for school facilities projects, and any state appropriations for school facilities projects, would be deposited. The four funds are as follows: (1) the SDA District Project Fund; (2) the Regular Operating District Construction and Maintenance Grants Fund; (3) the SDA District Emergent Project Fund; and (4) the Charter School and Renaissance School Project Construction and Maintenance Fund.
- The bill stipulates that no less than 50% of any appropriations providing direct funding for school facilities projects would be appropriated for SDA district school facilities projects and SDA district emergent needs. The remaining funds would be utilized in a manner to be determined by the SDA.
The NJSBA has been engaged in the legislation, including providing testimony in the previous two hearings. The first testimony identified several questions and concerns that should be addressed should the bill continue to move through the legislative process, and the second testimony expressed appreciation for certain amendments that addressed some of those concerns, while reiterating those that had not been addressed. The bill next heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for further consideration.
Eliminate Limit on Two-Year College Credit Transfers A-3227 would prohibit the New Jersey State Board of Education from adopting regulations that restrict the number of two-year college credits in the field of professional education that may be accepted toward meeting teacher certification requirements, provided that the credits are accepted by a state-approved college professional education preparation program. This would effectively lift the six-credit limit on such two-year college courses currently in NJDOE regulations and prohibit the State Board of Education from imposing such a limit in the future. Notably, the NJDOE has also proposed to lift that limit in its pending revisions to those regulations. The NJSBA supports the legislation, which next heads to the full Assembly for further consideration.
Alternative Teaching Pathway S-1553/A-4525 would establish the “alternative certificate of eligibility with advanced standing” and the “alternative certificate of eligibility.” A teacher candidate would be eligible for the alternative CEAS if the candidate meets all CEAS eligibility requirements except the requirement to pass the appropriate state test(s) of subject matter knowledge (i.e., Praxis II). A teacher candidate would be eligible for the alternative CE if the candidate meets all CE eligibility requirements except the basic skills requirement or the requirement to pass the Praxis II. Holders of the alternative CEAS or alternative CE would be eligible to receive their standard certification upon completion of four years of continuous employment using their alternative certificate, and provided that they complete all applicable requirements to earn their standard certificate. The bill prohibits the imposition of additional qualifications toward the acquisition of tenure on holders of alternative CEs/CEASs and provides that employment accrued under an alternative CE/CEAS must be applied toward eligibility for tenure in the same manner as employment accrued under a traditional CE or CEAS. NJSBA supports the bill, which passed the Senate in June 2022. It next heads to the Assembly floor for further consideration.
Survey on Holocaust Instruction A-4720 would require the NJDOE to develop and distribute to school districts a survey regarding instruction on the Holocaust and genocides. The survey would be designed to assess whether and how school districts are implementing existing instructional requirements regarding the Holocaust and genocides, and any additional resources or training that teachers need to provide the instruction. The bill would allow NJDOE to require a school district identified by the survey as not meeting those requirements to complete a corrective action plan. NJDOE would be required to submit a report to the governor and Legislature within 210 days detailing the findings of the survey and, if needed, recommendations to strengthen the instructional requirement.
The NJSBA is monitoring bill, which next heads to Assembly Appropriations Committee for further consideration. Its Senate counterpart, S-3145, passed the Senate Education Committee in December 2022 and the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee in January 2023.
Eliminate High School Graduation Proficiency Test (Discussion Only) The committee heard testimony – but did not vote – on a bill A-4639 to eliminate the high school graduation proficiency test. The bill would prohibit the State Board of Education from requiring “as part of the standards from graduation from secondary school … that any secondary school pupil achieve a satisfactory performance on any Statewide proficiency test.” The bill would also allow adults and out-of-school youth that have not previously been granted a diploma, but met all other high school graduation requirements, to apply for a state-endorsed diploma. The NJSBA is closely monitoring the legislation but has not taken a formal position at this time. The bill must be posted for another committee hearing before it can advance.
Senate Budget Committee
Tuition for Nonresident Students S-3349 would require boards of education to charge all nonresident students admitted to the district a uniform tuition amount, with exceptions for children of teaching staff members, certain children of members of the New Jersey National Guard or reserve component of the armed forces (as allowed under current law), or pursuant to any federal law, state law, regulation, or court order governing tuition charges. The bill would require executive county superintendents to approve the uniform tuition amount. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee Jan. 12, and now heads to the full Senate for further consideration.
Rowan VETeach Pilot Program S-2764 would establish the “VETeach Pilot Program” in the NJDOE designed to help address the educator shortage by helping facilitate teacher certification for the state’s veterans. Under the pilot program, Rowan University would enroll, in a 36-month teacher preparation program, veterans who served in the armed forces on or after Sept. 11, 2001. The program would lead to a baccalaureate degree and completion of the requirements necessary to apply to the NJDOE for a certificate of eligibility with advanced standing in certain endorsement areas. The bill is modeled on legislation that established a similar program at Stockton University in 2012 (P.L.2012, c.2). NJSBA supports the bill, which passed the Senate Education Committee Oct. 27, and now awaits further consideration by the full Senate.
To view the full text of any of the bills summarized above, please visit the New Jersey Legislature’s website.