On Jan. 12, the Senate Education Committee convened for the first time in 2023 to advance various measures related to PreK-12 education, including one that would provide tutoring opportunities to students and is aimed at mitigating the effects of learning loss or interrupted learning as a result of COVID-19. The Assembly Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee also met and approved a bill that would help districts impacted by a natural disaster fund facility repairs and construction.

Senate Education Committee

The Senate Education Committee approved the following:

High Efficiency Accelerated Learning Grant Program S-3220 would require the New Jersey Department of Education to establish and administer a “High Efficiency Accelerated Learning Grant Program” to provide high-impact tutoring opportunities to students throughout the state. The committee approved a new version of the bill that differs in several key ways from the bill discussed by the committee on Oct. 27, 2022.

Under the new version of the bill:

  • The High Efficiency Accelerated Learning Grant program would support tutoring programs implemented by school districts in partnership with “tutoring providers,” nonprofit organizations identified by the NJDOE as meeting certain minimum qualifications. Tutoring programs supported by the grant would be required to:
    • Be developmentally appropriate and offered across disciplines based on the needs identified by the district.
    • Be provided in a manner based on research-supported best practices.
    • Occur at a time and in a setting that facilitates and promotes learning.
    • Be data-driven and use diagnostic assessments aligned to the New Jersey Student Learning Standards to inform instruction and measure progress.
  • Grants would be awarded to school districts, partnerships of school districts, or tutoring providers applying on behalf of schools, on a competitive basis. The NJDOE would be required to give preference to applications for programs that occur within regular school hours and programs that identify additional sources of funding that demonstrate an ability to operate beyond the duration of the grant. The NJDOE would also be required, “to the extent possible,” to seek geographic diversity in awardees.
  • Grants would be awarded on a matching basis: local per student costs proposed by the grantee would be matched at 100%.
  • Individuals hired as tutors under the grant program would:
    • Not be required to live in New Jersey.
    • Be required to adhere to “all laws relating to the health and safety of students and all anti-discrimination laws.”
    • In the case of school employees, only serve as tutors during times that do not conflict with existing school duties.
  • Awardees would be required to conduct an annual evaluation or provide an annual external evaluation of their tutoring programs. The NJDOE would also be required to submit two reports to the governor and Legislature outlining statewide program results: one report after the third year of the program, and another report after the fifth year of the program.
  • The program would be funded by monies appropriated into a new non-lapsing, revolving fund known as the High Efficiency Accelerated Learning Grant Fund.

The New Jersey School Boards Association testified, expressing support and appreciation for the ongoing efforts of the bill’s sponsor, Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Vin Gopal, to prioritize academic recovery and high-impact tutoring efforts. NJSBA cited several improvements in the new version of the bill, such as more general requirements that tutoring be based on research-supported best practices, rather than the more prescriptive requirements contained in the original measure. The NJSBA also suggested several amendments that could strengthen the bill, including:

  • Removing the “local match” requirement, as it raises equity concerns by potentially excluding districts most in need of tutoring support from participating in the program.
  • Removing the grant’s “preferences” for tutoring programs that occur during the school day and programs that identify additional sources of funding to sustain the program beyond the duration of the grant. NJSBA expressed concern that districts in need of tutoring may not be fiscally or operationally able to implement programs that meet these criteria.
  • Expanding the definition of “tutoring provider” to allow partnerships to include additional types of entities, such as educator preparation programs at institutions of higher education.

Group Setting Info in IEPs S-3285 would require the individualized education plan of a student with a disability receiving special education services in a group setting to include (1) the number of additional students in the same group, and (2) the number of teachers present during the provision of special education services in the group setting. Districts would be required to revise each IEP to include this information during the next scheduled review, and at each review thereafter.

The NJSBA testified, expressing concerns that the bill is already covered by – and will hinder implementation of – NJDOE’s special education regulations establishing instructional group size limits for various special education services. NJSBA suggested that, if the bill moves forward, it be amended to require IEPs to include the maximum group size, rather than including the actual group size.

Nonresident Enrollment of Student Athletes S-3349 would require that, whenever a district enrolls a nonresident student in the district “for the purposes of participation in a school sport or other extracurricular activity,” the board of education of the district must (1) approve the enrollment, and (2) charge the student tuition equal to the actual cost per pupil. The NJSBA is monitoring the legislation.

Providing School Meal Info to Parents S-530 would revise the type of information that must be sent to parents or guardians at the beginning of the school year regarding the district’s school meal programs.

Under legislation signed in September (the “Working Class Families Anti-Hunger ActP.L.2022, c.104), school districts are required to provide, in paper or electronic format, parents with a school meals application form. S-530 would amend that requirement to specify that the application must be provided as a hard copy. The bill would also add that districts must include a notice that an application to apply for school meal programs may be submitted at any time during the school year and is required to be submitted annually.

In addition to modifying the school meal information that must be provided to parents, S-530 would establish a new requirement that school districts ensure parents either apply for school meal programs or submit a signed card provided by the district indicating that they have received the application and are not interested in participating. If a district does not receive an application or signed card, the district would be required to make at least one attempt to contact the student’s parent and request that the application or card be submitted. The NJSBA supported the legislation, which next heads to the Senate floor for further consideration.

Complying with Federal Nutrition Standards S-531 would require, beginning with the 2024-2025 school year, public schools to comply with the nutrition standards for the National School Lunch Program and the federal School Breakfast Program adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in January 2012, or any more stringent nutrition standards. The NJSBA supports the bill, which next heads to the Senate floor for further consideration.

Online Application for School Meals S-1222 would require the New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA), in consultation with the NJDOE, to develop an online school meal application. A district or nonprofit nonpublic school that currently offers an online school meals application would be required, within one year of the bill being signed, to switch to the NJDA’s application. Schools that do not currently offer an online school meal application would be required to “make every effort” to implement the NJDA’s application. A participating school that implements the NJDA’s application would be required to continue to make paper applications available as well. The NJSBA is monitoring the legislation, which next heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

CTE Scholar Awards A-1791/S-3306 would require the NJDOE, in consultation with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, to establish a “Career and Technical Education Scholar Awards” program. The program would annually recognize outstanding CTE students, according to an application procedure and criteria set by NJDOE. In addition to demonstrating high levels of achievement in their courses, awardees would have to complete a college-level course or a work-based learning experience and participate in a career and technical education student organization or a community-service project that demonstrates application of career and technical skills. The NJDOE would post the names of recipients of the CTE Scholar Awards on its website, and recognize recipients with a certificate, press announcement, or other recognition. The NJSBA supports the bill, which has already passed the full Assembly and may now be posted for a Senate floor vote.

Assembly Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee

The Assembly Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee approved:

Emergency Bonding Authority S-1892/A-4501 would create a streamlined process for school districts and certain municipalities to issue bonds to finance repairs to facilities and equipment damaged by natural disasters for which the state has declared a state of emergency. Specifically, Type II school districts without a board of school estimate may issue bonds without voter approval; in the case of Type I school districts and Type II school districts with a board of school estimate, such bonds may be issued by the board of education, or the governing body of the municipality comprised within the district. The bonds may be issued without the approval of the board of school estimate or the adoption of a municipal ordinance as applicable. The bill would authorize boards of education to approve the issuance of these bonds via a resolution that must contain certain information about the project enumerated in the bill. The resolution must be adopted in a public meeting by two-thirds of its full membership.

The district must demonstrate that the repairs are necessary to provide a thorough and efficient education, and that at least a portion of the costs are eligible for reimbursement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If the repairs constitute a school facility project eligible for debt service aid pursuant to the Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act, the district must seek approval from the NJDOE. The bill specifies that the NJDOE must review applications on an expedited basis, and that, notwithstanding the EFCFA, the commissioner may not deny such an application merely based on whether the project is consistent with the district’s long-range facilities plan.

Upon the adoption of a resolution approving the issuance, the district must submit an application to the commissioner. If the commissioner approves the application, principal and interest on the bonds would be repaid with school district funds, and the amount required for those payments must be certified by the board of education and included in the taxes assessed, levied and collected in the municipality or municipalities comprising the school district for those purposes.

The bill, which the full Senate approved last spring, next heads to the Assembly State and Local Government Committee for further consideration. It is the NJSBA’s understanding that this legislation was introduced in response to severe damage to facilities of the Cresskill Public School District caused by Hurricane Ida. NJSBA supports the legislation.

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