On Thursday, Feb. 3, the Senate Education Committee held its first meeting of the 2022-2023 legislative session, which was also the first one presided over by its new chair, Sen. Vin Gopal. In addition, the Assembly Education Committee, which continues to be led by Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, convened for its first meeting this past Monday. The following provides a rundown of each measure the committees advanced.
Senate Education Committee
School Funding Formula Evaluation Task Force S-354 establishes a seven-member task force to study, evaluate and assess 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 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. NJSBA supports the legislation.
Remote Instruction S-464 revises the conditions for use of virtual or remote instruction to meet the minimum 180-day school year requirement. This bill permits a public school or an approved private school for students with disabilities to meet the 180-day school year requirement through the use of virtual or remote instruction when the school is required to close for one or more school days due to inclement weather or hazardous transportation conditions, or due to other circumstances that require the closure of schools. Pursuant to current law, a public school or APSSD may meet the 180-day requirement through the use of virtual or remote instruction only if the school or APSSD is required to close for more than three consecutive school days due to a declared state of emergency, a declared public health emergency, or a directive by the appropriate health agency or officer to institute a public health-related closure. Current law does not permit a public school or APSSD to utilize virtual or remote instruction in the event that the school or APSSD is closed due to inclement weather or hazardous transportation conditions. Additionally, current law does not permit a public school or APSSD to utilize virtual or remote instruction in the event that the closure is for a single school day or for two consecutive school days. NJSBA supports the bill.
Cardiac Exams for Student Physicals S-129 requires that every student enrolled in both public and nonpublic schools to undergo a physical examination using the “Preparticipation Physical Evaluation” form for grades 6-12. Previously such evaluations were only required for sports participation. NJSBA supports the bill. If enacted, it will go into effect at the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year.
Criminal Justice Academies S-248 establishes a pilot program in the NJDOE to support the establishment of criminal justice career academies in public high schools. This bill requires the commissioner of education to establish a five-year pilot program to provide support to school districts in developing and establishing criminal justice career academy programs in high schools within the districts. Career academies are small learning communities comprised of groups of students within a larger high school community who take classes together for at least two years and are taught by a team of teachers from different disciplines. The academies provide students a college preparatory curriculum with a particular career theme and offer other opportunities through partnerships with employers, the community and local institutions of higher education. NJSBA supports the bill.
Desegregation Office S-820 establishes Division of School Desegregation in the NJDOE to identify racial and socioeconomic segregation of school districts and to ensure better integration in public schools. The duties of the division include: compiling statistics on the racial, ethnic and economic composition of students for each public school in the state; a comparative analysis of the educational outcomes of students enrolled in highly-segregated schools with the educational outcomes of students enrolled in more racially- and economically-integrated schools; reviewing housing patterns and state laws and regulations that require students to attend schools in their resident districts; reviewing and making recommendations to strengthen the “Interdistrict Public School Choice Program Act,” and examining other states that have implemented programs that have successfully increased the ethnic, racial and economic diversity of a school district’s student population, among other duties. NJSBA supports the bill.
Cooperative Purchasing S-903 establishes educational service agencies for procuring custodial and food services in schools, while ensuring certain employee rights for affected employees. The legislation mandates the consolidation of procurement of food and custodial services through these educational service agencies, which would be established at the county level. Under the bill, membership in each county’s agency would be automatic for each school district that uses a private contractor to provide either food or custodial services. Furthermore, it places several obstacles in the way of any district that currently provides food or custodial services using district employees but is seeking to privatize such services.
The purpose of the bill is to promote the sharing of services to create efficiencies. However, the NJSBA opposes the legislation as it would mandate participation in the countywide educational service agencies established under the bill by any districts that privatizes its food or custodial services. Such a one-size-fits-all would provide no guarantee that the countywide arrangement would save a district money or provide a better level of service compared to another arrangement. While supportive of shared services and cooperative purchasing arrangements, NJSBA argued in committee that districts need the flexibility to procure goods and services in a manner that best meets their individual needs. The NJSBA and other education organizations that opposed the bill will continue conversations with the sponsor, who has agreed not to advance the legislation until all concerns have been addressed.
Residency Requirement Repeal S-904 would eliminate the state residency requirement for public school employees for a period of three years. This requirement was established by law in 2011 and currently applies to all public officers and employees, with certain limited exceptions. Following the three-year period, the NJDOE would be required to submit a report evaluating the elimination of the residency requirement with specific regard to its effectiveness, any unintended consequences, and any recommendations for legislation. Under the bill, a school district seeking to fill an open position must make a good faith effort to hire a person who maintains a principal residence in New Jersey for the open position. NJSBA testified in support of the bill, which is intended to increase the pool of potential job applicants and help address staffing shortages districts are experiencing.
Due Process Filings S-905 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 September 1, 2021, at any time prior to September 1, 2023, essentially extending the time to file a petition for one additional year. NJSBA supports the bill.
Assembly Education Committee
School Security Tip Line A-180 directs the New Jersey Attorney General to establish a program for anonymous reporting of potential threats to school safety. Such a program would provide a means for the public to report information concerning unsafe, potentially harmful, dangerous, violent, or criminal activities in schools or the threat of those activities. In the 2014 report titled What Makes Schools Safe?, the NJSBA School Security Task Force recommended that a statewide anonymous tip line should be pursued by the state departments of Education, Community Affairs, and Law and Public Safety, as well as the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness and other agencies. Therefore, NJSBA supports the legislation.
Due Process Filings A-1281 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, essentially extending the time to file a petition for one additional year. NJSBA supports the bill, which also cleared the Senate Education Committee last week.
Student Names on Diplomas A-1588 permits graduating students to use preferred names on diplomas conferred by both public and nonpublic schools, institutions of higher education, and proprietary institutions licensed to offer academic degrees. Graduating students would not be required to provide legal documentation sufficient to demonstrate a legal name or gender change in order to use a preferred name. Schools or institutions would have the right to deny a preferred name request if the preferred name is intended to misrepresent the person’s identity or misappropriate the identity of another person, avoid a legal obligation, harm the reputation or interests of the school or institution, or be derogatory, obscene, or otherwise inappropriate. NJSBA supports the bill.
Title IX Coordinator A-2066 requires public schools, and nonpublic schools that receive federal funding, to provide students with information on the rights afforded under Title IX, and to provide contact information for the Title IX coordinator. The bill also requires the commissioner of education to annually disseminate through electronic means a letter to each public school, and to each nonpublic school that receives federal funds and is subject to the requirements of Title IX, informing the school of the rights afforded to a student and the responsibilities of the school under Title IX. NJSBA supports the bill.
COVID Assistance Reporting A-2067 requires the NJDOE to annually report to the governor and Legislature the amount of federal aid related to COVID relief it receives and distributes to districts as well as the purposes for which grant funds were used by these districts. Additionally, NJDOE would submit a final report regarding the expenditure of federal grant funds received to address the impact of COVID-19 on public education no later than six months following the complete exhaustion of funds by recipient school districts. NJSBA continues to monitor this bill.
Amistad Day AJR-59 designates Feb. 28 of each year as “Amistad Day.” throughout the State of New Jersey in recognition of the importance of the Amistad case to the American abolitionist movement and to the causes of liberty and equality throughout the world. NJSBA supports the bill.