Tuesday, Jan. 16, marked the final day that Gov. Phil Murphy could sign into law any measures that landed on his desk in the final days of the 2022-2023 legislative session. Any bills that he did not sign were pocket vetoed, meaning they were allowed to die without the governor taking any action.

The following provides a summary of any bills affecting public school students and districts that he approved, along with those that he did not and which must be reintroduced to have any chance of becoming law.

Bills Signed Into Law

Temporary Expansion of Free School Lunch; Permanent Expansion of Free School Breakfast On Jan. 16, the governor and various legislative and policy leaders visited South Amboy School District’s South Amboy Elementary School to announce the signature of A-5684/S-4055 into law.

This new law will require school districts and nonpublic schools participating in the National School Lunch Program to provide free lunch, during the 2024-2025 school year, to students who are federally eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch, as well as to students who are federally ineligible, but who have an annual household income of not more than 224% of the federal poverty level.

The bill additionally amends existing law to clarify that both public and nonpublic schools offering school breakfasts, pursuant to the federal School Breakfast Program, will be required to provide such breakfasts, free of charge, both to federally eligible students and to students who are federally ineligible, but who have an annual household income amounting to not less than 186%, and not more than 224% of the federal poverty level.

“Governor Murphy’s signature of A-5684 brings New Jersey one step closer to a more just, more equitable, more whole-child-centered public education system in which every student has unfettered access to two nutritious meals each school day,” said Dr. Timothy Purnell, the New Jersey School Boards Association’s executive director and CEO.  “We commend the governor, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz and the entire New Jersey Legislature for expanding on the progress made by 2022’s Working Class Families Anti-Hunger Act to combat food insecurity among New Jersey’s youth.” Purnell continued. “This bill represents lawmaking at its best: realistic yet ambitious; deliberative yet decisive; planning for the future while addressing the needs of the now; a clearly resource-backed and support-oriented approach to empowering school districts to foster healthier school climates where every student has the resources they need to reach their full potential.”

The new law requires the state to provide funding to each school district and nonpublic school that participates in the National School Lunch Program, as may be necessary to reimburse the costs associated with the provision of free lunches thereby, in school year 2024-2025, to students who are federally ineligible, but who satisfy the bill’s expanded, state-level income eligibility requirements for that year.  The law further requires the Department of Agriculture, in consultation with the Department of Education, to establish a standardized means by which to review the reimbursement amounts being allocated under the bill, and under the existing Working Class Families Anti-Hunger Act, to determine whether participating districts and nonpublic schools are receiving adequate reimbursement sufficient to account for each school’s actual costs of meal delivery, including, but not limited to, food, labor and other related costs.

The law requires each report that is annually submitted, to the governor and Legislature, on the state’s school lunch and breakfast programs to identify for each participating school district and nonpublic school:  (1) the total number and percentage of students receiving subsidized school meals who have been determined to be, respectively, federally eligible for free school lunch or breakfast, federally eligible for reduced price school lunch or breakfast, income-eligible for free school lunch or breakfast on the basis of state-level income eligibility requirements, or neither categorically eligible nor income-eligible for free or reduced price meals; and (2) the number and percentage of such students who reside, respectively, in low-income families and in middle-income families, as defined under the bill.

The law requires school districts and nonpublic schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program or the federal School Breakfast Program to take steps to minimize or offset program costs, to the extent that can be accomplished without compromising their ability to comply with minimum nutritional standards and other program requirements.  To facilitate such cost minimization activities, the Department of Agriculture, in consultation with the Department of Education, will:  (1) monitor, inspect and oversee school meals programs operating to ensure they continue to satisfy minimum nutritional standards; (2) develop and publicize best practices, protocols and model plans to help minimize and offset program costs without compromising nutritional value; and (3) work cooperatively with each participating school district and nonpublic school to review the program costs being expended, identify various means and methods by which those program costs can be reduced, curtailed, or eliminated without sacrificing nutritional value or legal compliance, provide relevant financial recommendations and undertake or recommend other appropriate actions to prevent school meals programs from becoming overly bloated with unnecessary expenses and  becoming financially burdensome.

Finally, the law requires the Office of the Food Security Advocate to establish a working group on school food security to identify and develop best practices, policies and plans – and to take other appropriate action to promote and facilitate the effective functioning of the state’s school meals programs and the expanded provision of free school meals to students.  Within one year after its formation, and on a regular basis thereafter as deemed by the food security advocate to be appropriate, the working group will be tasked with:  (1) conducting a study on school food security issues, in accordance with the bill’s provisions, and recommending further state-level action to facilitate the provision of free school meals to enhanced numbers or categories of students; and (2) developing and publishing a plan to facilitate and promote the adoption, by the United States Congress and president, of federal legislation authorizing the nationwide provision of free school meals to all students in the country, and providing federal reimbursement for all such meals served by schools and school districts in the states.

Eliminating April Budget Vote S-4209/A-5879 eliminates the required public vote on school budgets below the tax levy growth cap for Type II April districts. The new law also creates start and end dates for board member terms of 1/1-12/31 for November districts and 5/1-4/30 for April districts, rather than terms starting and ending at an organization meeting. The law further ensures that in a Type II school district, the school board may not conduct a meeting, other than for the organization meeting, between January 1 and the organization date in districts with a November school election and May 1 and the organization date for districts with an April school election. An exception is provided if a meeting is needed to deal with a matter of urgency and importance as set forth in the Open Public Meetings Act, and if all newly elected members present are sworn into office prior to conducting business. The NJSBA supported the bill, which takes effect immediately.

FAFSA Graduation Requirement A-1181/S-2054 requires students to complete financial aid applications as part of high school graduation requirements. The bill provides that, beginning with the 2023-2024 grade 11 class and for two years thereafter, a board of education or a board of trustees of a charter school shall require a student to complete and submit a financial aid application in a form prescribed by the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. This requirement will serve as a prerequisite to the student receiving a high school diploma. However, a student is exempt from this requirement if the student (is at least 18 years of age) or the student’s parent or guardian (if the student is younger than 18) submits a waiver form to the school district or charter school. In addition, if the waiver form cannot be reasonably obtained from a parent, the student’s school counselor may authorize the waiver.

The NJSBA testified in opposition to the bill and expressed concerns about imposing a nonacademic requirement to graduate from high school. The NJSBA urged the Legislature to consider a more incentive-based, resource-backed approach to increase financial aid application completion rates. A copy of the NJSBA’s position statement on the bill can be found here.

Revisions to School Facilities Law and SDA Operations A-4496 makes various changes to the laws governing school facilities projects and the operations of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority. For additional information, please see the NJSBA’s Jan. 9 article that appeared in School Board Notes: “Legislative Update: Governor Acts on Education-Related Measures; Several Others Land on His Desk as Legislative Session Closes”.

Nonpublic School Transportation Consortiums  A-5412/S-3850 establishes a nonpublic school transportation program to provide funding to consortiums of nonpublic schools that will assume responsibility for mandated nonpublic school busing.  Under the program, nonpublic schools in one or more counties would be authorized to form a consortium to assume responsibilities from participating school districts to provide transportation to and from the nonpublic schools or aid-in-lieu. If a school district chooses to participate in the voluntary program, the district would disburse to the consortium an amount equal to the aid-in-lieu of transportation amount for each nonpublic school student for whom the school district would otherwise be required to provide transportation or aid-in-lieu. The bill’s provisions will expire three years from its effective date.  Also, the commissioner of education, in consultation with the oversight committee established pursuant to the bill’s provisions, will be required to submit a report to the governor and the Legislature on the implementation of the program.

Youth Suicide Prevention A-3526/S-1662 requires the New Jersey Youth Suicide Prevention Advisory Council to prepare a report regarding suicide prevention instruction in public schools. The report will include, but need not be limited to:

  • Identifying the suicide prevention instruction currently provided to teaching staff members and students.
  • Reviewing the effectiveness and sufficiency of such instruction.
  • Identifying methods public schools may use to identify students who may be at risk for suicide or self-injury.
  • Identifying best practices in public schools for the prevention of youth suicide and self-injury.
  • Identifying opportunities to enhance access to mental health treatment in public schools.
  • Findings and recommendations, including legislative and regulatory proposals.

In preparing the report, the council will develop a survey to collect data from local school districts, approved private schools for students with disabilities and charter and renaissance school projects. The council is required to submit the report to the governor and Legislature within 12 months following enactment of this legislation. The NJSBA supported the bill.

Innovation Dual Enrollment II Pilot Program A-3319/S-2076 establishes in the Department of Education a three-year Innovation Dual Enrollment II Pilot Program.  The purpose of the program is to offer participating students in grades nine through 12 a guided start to postsecondary coursework, through the provision of targeted supports and low-cost courses in which students may simultaneously earn high school and college credits. NJSBA supports the bill.

Under the new law, the commissioner of education will be required to select districts representing each of the southern, central and northern regions of the state to participate in the program.  The commissioner is required to select districts impacted substantially by the COVID-19 public health crisis, which have a high proportion of economically disadvantaged students.  The commissioner will provide a grant to each of the pilot districts to finance costs associated with offering the program, including the cost of tuition charged to the district.

The law requires a school district that wants to participate in the pilot program to submit an application to the commissioner. The application may include (1) a partnership agreement with an institution of higher education that includes a commitment from the institution to apply any enrolled student’s credits; (2) a commitment from the school district to apply any credits earned by the students in the program toward the student’s secondary school graduation requirements; (3) a commitment from the school district to provide student support and counseling services necessary to ensure the academic success of participating students; (4) a commitment from the school district to provide free transportation to any courses on the college campus, as needed; and (5) a commitment from the school district to provide program and student data, disaggregated by demographic subgroups, to the department, such as data on program enrollment, student completion, college credit attainment, student grades and post-program college entrance rates.

Under the law, a participating school district must require participating students to: (1) enroll in no less than one academic credit at the postsecondary level, and no more than 15 academic credits at the postsecondary level, in each semester; and (2) maintain a 2.0 grade point average for the student’s secondary and postsecondary coursework to continue participation in the program.

The law requires an institution of higher education that enters into a partnership agreement with a participating school to provide a program of six or more academic credits in each semester. The program is to offer students an opportunity to earn academic credits directly applicable to a credential or degree awarded by the institution. The institution is required to waive student fees and charge the partnering district no more than $100 per academic credit for each participating student. The institution is to provide reports each semester to the district, at a minimum, on the academic progress of the district’s students enrolled in the program.

Also under the law, a public institution of higher education is required to accept and apply toward an applicable degree program all credits earned by a student during the pilot program established pursuant to this section, in accordance with the institution’s credit transfer policies. An independent institution of higher education may accept the credits earned by a student during the pilot program established pursuant to this section.

The law also requires the commissioner to submit a report to the governor and the Legislature, which will contain information on the implementation of the program and is to include the commissioner’s recommendation on the feasibility of implementing the program statewide.

The law requires the department to, in collaboration with the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, determine allowable uses for funds prior to accepting applications to participate in the program, and is required to describe the allowable uses in a Notice of Grant Opportunity. The department is to, in collaboration with the office, prioritize pilot program investments in school districts that partner with New Jersey institutions of higher education.

Student Civic Engagement S-2304/A-1271 permits, beginning with the 2023-2024 school year, excused absences for students who attend civic events. Specifically, the new law permits public school pupils in grades six through 12 one excused absence to attend a civic event each school year and allows school districts to provide additional excused absences for such purposes. Excused absences taken under this law would not be reflected in student attendance records. Parents or guardians of pupils who wish to use an excused absence under this bill would be required to provide signed written notice at least five school days in advance of the intended excused absence and such other documentation as the school district deems necessary to prove that the pupil meets the requirements for an excused absence. The law requires the commissioner of education to provide guidance to districts regarding excused absences for civic events, and the State Board of Education to adopt implementing regulations. NJSBA supported the legislation.

Youth Disconnection Prevention A-398/S-3080 establishes the position of Youth Disconnection Prevention and Recovery Ombudsperson in the New Jersey Department of Education and establishes the “School Disconnection Prevention Task Force.” The ombudsperson will be appointed by the governor, serve at the pleasure of the governor and report directly to the commissioner of education. The duties of the ombudsperson include:

  • Collaborating with school districts to develop and implement a statewide strategic plan of action.
  • Collaborating with a variety of governmental agencies to address the challenges facing student dropouts.
  • Developing best practices consistent with the recommendations of the School Disconnection Prevention Task Force.
  • Advising the commissioner on ways to prevent students from disconnecting from school and strategies for reengaging students who have disconnected from school.

The task force established by the law will consist of 25 members, including the Youth Disconnection Prevention and Recovery ombudsperson, who will serve as the chair of the task force; the commissioners of the Departments of Education, Corrections, Labor and Workforce Development, Human Services, and Children and Families; the secretary of higher education; the executive director of the Juvenile Justice Commission; and 17 members appointed by the governor. The duties of the task force include:

  • Examining current data on disconnected youth.
  • Researching programs and initiatives addressing school disconnection.
  • Examining possible contributing factors for students leaving school.
  • Identifying effective ways to reduce the number of disconnected youth.
  • Advising the Youth Disconnection Prevention and Recovery ombudsperson on the task force’s findings.

The NJSBA supported the bill.

School Audit Delay As reported in NJSBA’s Dec. 12, 2023, School Board Notes article “Legislative Update: Lame Duck Session Continues,” the Legislature first sent A-4033/S-2657 to the governor’s desk on Dec. 11, 2023. At that time, the bill would have extended the deadlines for completing and filing a school district’s annual audit by two months. On Jan. 8, the governor conditionally-vetoed that bill and the Legislature agreed with the governor’s recommendations and sent the amended bill back to the governor. The governor signed the bill into law Jan. 16, which, as amended to conform with his conditional veto, now pilots a temporary, two-year extension of the audit completion/filing deadlines by approximately six weeks. Under the new law, the deadlines for completing and filing the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 audits will be pushed back to Jan 10 and Jan. 15 respectively.

Expedited Certification Route for Paraprofessionals As reported in NJSBA’s Jan. 4 School Board Notes article “Legislative Update: Electric School Bus Program Funding and Food Composting Bills Signed; Legislature Sends Several Other Bills to Governor” the Legislature first sent A-5416/S-3883 to the governor’s desk Dec. 21, 2023. At that time, the bill would have required the New Jersey State Board of Education to authorize an alternate, expedited route to teacher certification for paraprofessionals and instructional assistants. The expedited route would have been required to include a formula for applying direct classroom service to any student teaching requirements, a formula for a GPA waiver, and “a requirement that the school district in which the candidate is currently employed make every reasonable effort to permit the candidate to perform any required student teaching in the school district while, if possible, continuing employment as a paraprofessional or an instructional assistant.”

On Jan. 8, the governor conditionally vetoed the bill. The Legislature agreed with the governor’s recommendations, amended the bill accordingly and sent it back to the governor. The governor signed the amended bill into law Jan. 16.

In response to concerns expressed by the governor that, contrary to the goal of the bill, its original provisions for an alternate certification route had the potential to “cause significant confusion to prospective candidates in the application process” in part because the NJDOE already expedites certain steps of the certification process for paraprofessionals, and that therefore “[i]nstead, efforts should focus on addressing obstacles facing education support professionals when seeking teaching certification, including by providing supports towards degree attainment,” the law now establishes a “paraprofessional educator pathway” rather than an “alternate route” to certification. The pathway would include and expand on provisions contemplated by the initially passed bill for counting certain paraprofessional classroom service toward clinical practice requirements and for encouraging districts to place the candidate in a classroom matching the paraprofessional’s desired endorsement area.

Pocket Vetoes

The governor pocket vetoed the following bills:

Montessori Teacher Certification Pathway S-3172/A-4689: Establishes teacher certification route for candidates with Montessori teaching credentials.

State Review of APSSD Audits A-4396/S-2927: Establishes timelines for review and approval by commissioner of education of annual certified audits submitted by approved private schools for students with disabilities.

Mentoring Male Teachers of Color A-3945/S-1660: Establishes “Male Teachers of Color Mentorship Pilot Program” and appropriates $95,000.

To view the full text of any of the bills summarized above, please visit the New Jersey Legislature’s website.