On Tuesday, Jan. 18, the day he also took the oath of office for a second term as New Jersey’s chief executive, Gov. Phil Murphy took final action on close to 150 bills that were sent to his desk in the final days of the 2020-2021 legislative session. Below is a rundown of any measures affecting public school districts and students that were signed into law. Unless otherwise noted, these new laws went into effect immediately upon the governor’s approval.
Addressing CTE Teacher Shortage S-4074/A-6000 eliminates the requirement to pass a basic skills test to become a career and technical education teacher. As an alternative, a prospective CTE teaching candidate can demonstrate basic skills proficiency in a manner to be determined by the New Jersey Department of Education. The bill is intended to alleviate the shortage of career and technical education teachers in the state’s public schools. In order to give the NJDOE sufficient time to identify appropriate alternate measures to demonstrate candidate proficiency, the bill will go into effect at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year.
Wellness Grant Program A-4434/S-2716 directs the state commissioner of education, in consultation with the Department of Children and Families, to establish a student wellness grant program. The purpose of the program will be to provide grants that support school districts in implementing school-based programs and practices that promote mental wellness, social and emotional learning and student resilience. The governor conditionally vetoed the bill to revise the funding language to provide the NJDOE with flexibility to fund the grant program alongside other priorities. In addition, he recommended allowing for a pause of the grant program in the face of insufficient available funding.
School District Regionalization S-3488/A-5537 modifies various procedures pertaining to school district regionalization. The bill also establishes a grant program for conducting regionalization feasibility studies in this voluntary program, as well as other financial incentives for districts to explore regionalization, particularly those that are losing state aid because of declining enrollment. Specifically, districts facing adjustment aid cuts would see those cuts phased in over eight years — stretched out from the current four years — if the districts involved choose to start a regionalization plan. An additional incentive provides that, through 2028-2029, newly established K-12 regional districts would receive the greater of the state aid to which the newly established district would be entitled, or the sum of the aid of what would have been provided to the constituent districts prior to the creation of the new regional district. In addition to the financial incentives, the bill establishes various flexibilities regarding implementation of a regionalization plan that are intended to make the process easier. The law also maintains voter approval over any final decision to regionalize.
Teacher Loan Redemption S-969/A-2687 establishes a loan redemption program in the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority to allow teachers to redeem a portion of their New Jersey College Loans to Assist State Students loan amounts for service as a teacher in a high-need field in a “low-performing school.” As conditionally vetoed by the governor, the bill includes a $1 million appropriation to fund the program, and it permits forgiveness of 25% of the principal and interest of the loan amount in return for each consecutive year of service, for up to a four-year period and a maximum redemption of $20,000.
New Special Education Unit S-2160/A-5701 would create a special education unit within the Office of Administrative Law and require an annual report. The special education unit would consist of administrative law judges having expertise in special education law. Under the bill, all contested cases concerning special education law that are referred to the OAL would be assigned to and adjudicated by the administrative law judges in the special education unit. This law will take effect nine months following the appointment and confirmation of 15 additional administrative law judges but no later than two years following enactment. The governor recommended this delay in implementation to ensure the proper and efficient operation of the new unit, which will require an increase in both judges and support personnel.
Hiring Retired Teachers S-3685/A-5576 permits a retired teacher to return to employment for up to two years without reenrollment in the pension system. The bill also applies to any retired professional staff member who provides special services, such as speech language specialists or therapists. Current law includes a substantially similar provision that permits a retired superintendent or administrator to return to work with a board of education in a pensioned position for a limited period of time and without reenrolling in the pension system. In addition, a recently enacted state law permits the employment of retired school nurses on an interim basis. The law goes into effect immediately but will only apply to retirees hired during the current or 2022-2023 school year.
Asian American Heritage S-3764/A-3369 establishes a commission on Asian Heritage in the NJDOE. The purpose of the commission would be to survey, design, encourage and promote the implementation of historical, cultural and educational programs concerning people of Asian and Asian American descent in New Jersey.
BOE Student Representative A-3392/S-1219 requires that at least one student representative be appointed to each board of education of a school district and board of trustees of any charter school that includes grades nine through 12. The student is to be selected by the student body. In the event that there is more than one high school in the district, the position will rotate among the high schools. The representative shall attend all meetings, present to the board on matters of student concern and provide a monthly report to the student body. The student representative would have no vote and will not be permitted in closed session. The law goes into effect at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year.
Enrolling Students of Military Families A-5694/S-3783 permits dependents of a military member to enroll in a school district in advance of the military member’s relocation to the district. Military families will have to present a copy of their relocation orders to the district prior to enrollment.
Reporting Discipline Data A-1184/A-4414/S-1020 requires the School Report Card to include a demographic breakdown of students who receive disciplinary actions and requires the commissioner of education to establish a statewide database concerning various disciplinary actions. This bill requires that there be a demographic breakdown by race, gender, disability and grade level of the students who receive discipline, as well as the types of discipline imposed. The law goes into effect immediately and will first apply to the 2022-2023 school year.
Evaluating Teacher Prep Programs S-2830/A-5291 requires each educator preparation program to annually report to the NJDOE on the first-time and overall test pass rates of candidates for an instructional certificate, for each test required for instructional certification. The bill also requires the department to annually compile the test pass rates of candidates for an instructional certificate into a comparative profile of all educator preparation programs. The pass rates will be included within the documentation required for the commissioner of education’s periodic review of educator preparation programs. The law takes effect with the first full academic year following the governor’s approval.
AAPI Instruction S-4021/A-6100 requires school districts to provide instruction on the history and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as part of the implementation of New Jersey Student Learning Standards in social studies. The bill also requires a board of education to have policies and procedures in place pertaining to the selection of instructional materials that comply with the provisions of this bill. In adopting materials for use in the school district, a board of education would be required to adopt inclusive instructional materials that portray the cultural and economic diversity of the AAPI community. If enacted, the bill would first apply to the 2022-2023 school year.
Legislative Youth Council S-3164/A-4987 creates the New Jersey Legislative Youth Council. The purpose of the council is to provide a forum for New Jersey’s youth to participate in the democratic process; to advise the Legislature on the perspectives, opinions, needs, development and welfare of the youth of the state; and on the most effective and efficient policies, programs and services that the state could provide for the youth. The council would also research, analyze, discuss and make specific recommendations in the areas of civics education; drugs and substance abuse; emotional and physical health; employment and economic opportunities; environmental protection; gun violence and school safety; homelessness and poverty; mental health; safe environment for youth; sexual harassment and violence; youth services; and youth bias and hate crimes. The council would be comprised of 44 members — 40 members of the public between the ages of 15 and 23 representing each of the state’s legislative districts, and four members of the New Jersey Legislature. For each legislative session, the council will submit to the Legislature a series of policy recommendations.
Teacher Workforce Data S-2835/A-5292 requires compilation of data and the issuance of annual reports on the New Jersey teacher workforce. Specifically, the bill establishes the following reporting requirements concerning the current and projected teacher workforce in the state:
- School districts will annually submit to the New Jersey Commissioner of Education information for the current school year on teaching positions (e.g., vacant positions, the number of new teaching positions, the number of positions that were eliminated and anticipated teacher retirements).
- School districts will also annually submit to the commissioner information on public school teacher retention, including the number of and reasons why teachers left employment with the district during the prior school year. The information would show the characteristics of the teachers who left the district, including age, sex, race and tenure status.
- The Executive Leadership Council of the New Jersey Education to Earnings Data System will issue a report on teacher workforce projections for the state for the following two years. After the issuance of this initial report, the council will issue an annual report on teacher workforce projections for the subsequent three to five years.
- The Executive Leadership Council of the NJEEDS will semiannually report to the Legislature on the progress of the annual teacher workforce projection report.
The law goes into effect in six months.
District Website Accessibility A-4856/S-3094 requires the websites and web services of school districts, charter schools and renaissance schools to be accessible to persons with disabilities by establishing certain accessibility standards. Specifically, the bill requires that no public school will make available to the enrolled students of the district or school or to the public a website or web service unless the website or web service complies with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA or the most up-to-date version of the guidelines if approved by the commissioner of education, or any other applicable guidelines or requirements as may be designated or approved by the commissioner. The WCAG guidelines provide standards through which digital content may be accessible for persons with disabilities. In June 2018, the WCAG 2.1 guidelines were issued to improve accessibility guidance for three major groups: users with cognitive or learning disabilities, users with low vision and users with disabilities on mobile devices.
This law goes into effect July 1, 2022. NJSBA has and will continue to advocate for state funding to offset districts’ cost in implementing the new website accessibility requirement.
School Bus Safety A-5814/S-3851 creates the Office of School Bus Safety in the NJDOE. The office will be charged with overseeing the school busing industry and to coordinate enforcement and accountability among the department, school bus drivers, and school bus contractors.
Responsible Collective Negotiations Act S-3810/A-5826 concerns the settlement of labor disputes among public employers and employees. In general, the bill only applies to the state and unions representing state employees and does not affect public school districts. However, the bill contains a couple of amendments to the New Jersey Employer-Employee Relations Act and a 2018 law known as the Workplace Democracy Enhancement Act, both of which apply to boards of education. Specifically, the bill:
- Requires that every 120 calendar days, public employers provide to the union the following information for each employee not represented by the union: name, job title, worksite location, work email and work phone number, and, within 30 days of a request by the union, a job description for each non-represented employee, including the names and job titles of all employees supervised by the employer.
- Provides that employees who authorized a payroll deduction of union fees prior to the effective date of the WDEA may revoke the authorization by providing written notice to their employer, consistent with the terms of the authorization as consistent with the law at the time the authorization was given.
- Provides that employees who have authorized the payroll deduction of fees to employee organizations on or after the effective date of the Workplace Democracy Enhancement Act may revoke such authorization by providing written notice to their employer at any time. Under existing law, an employee may only revoke such authorization by providing written notice to an employer during the 10 days following each anniversary date of their employment.