The Assembly Education Committee met Thursday, Jan. 23, receiving testimony from invited guests on gifted and talented education programs throughout New Jersey. The committee also advanced the following bills:

Strengthening Gifted and Talented EducationA-4710, entitled the “Strengthening Gifted and Talented Education Act,” establishes various school district responsibilities in educating gifted and talented students. The bill codifies a requirement included in State Board of Education regulations that boards of education ensure appropriate instructional adaptations and educational services are provided to gifted and talented students in kindergarten through grade 12 to enable them to participate in, benefit from, and demonstrate knowledge and application of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards.  Under the bill, a school district would be required to:

  • ensure that appropriate instructional adaptations are designed for gifted and talented students;
  • make provisions for an ongoing identification process for gifted and talented students that includes multiple measures to identify student strengths in various academic areas;
  • maintain a list of students identified as gifted and talented in each grade for each school within the school district;
  • develop and document appropriate curricular and instructional modifications used for gifted and talented students indicating content, process, products, and learning environment;
  • take into consideration the pre-K-grade 12 Gifted Programming Standards of the National Association for Gifted Children in developing programs for gifted and talented students;
  • provide the time and resources to develop, review, and enhance instructional tools with modifications for helping gifted and talented students acquire and demonstrate mastery of the required knowledge and skills specified by the standards in one or more content areas at the instructional level of the student, not just the student’s grade level; and
  • actively assist and support professional development for teachers, educational services staff, and school leaders in the area of gifted and talented instruction.

The bill also requires the education commissioner to appoint a coordinator for gifted and talented programs, who will be responsible for reviewing the gifted and talented program implemented in each school district.  School districts will be required to file periodically with the coordinator a report that includes information regarding its gifted and talented programs and services.  In addition, the commissioner will develop a protocol for submitting a complaint alleging that a school district is not in compliance with the provisions of the bill and for the executive county superintendent of schools to investigate a complaint.  The protocol will include procedures for remediating gifted and talented programs in school districts found to be in noncompliance.

The bill also requires school districts to post detailed information on their websites regarding the policies and procedures used to identify students as gifted and talented and the continuum of services offered within the school district.  Finally, the bill provides that a student record must document that the student has been identified by the school district as a gifted and talented student.

NJSBA supports the legislation.

In other legislation released Thursday by the committee:

Epi-Pen Administration by Bus DriversA-3679 establishes requirements for the development of a policy for the emergency administration of epinephrine to a student for anaphylaxis. This bill would supplement existing law to include school bus drivers among the individuals permitted to administer epinephrine to a student. It permits a school bus driver to administer epinephrine to a student when the following conditions are met: (1) the student’s parent or guardian has provided written authorization for a school bus driver to administer epinephrine to the student in an emergency; and (2) the school bus driver has been properly trained in the administration of epinephrine via a pre-filled auto-injector mechanism using standardized training protocols established by the New Jersey Department of Education in consultation with the New Jersey Department of Health.  The training will be conducted by an entity or individual approved by the New Jersey Department of Education. The bill provides that school bus drivers, school districts, nonpublic schools, and school bus contractors that provide pupil transportation services under contract with a board of education will have immunity from liability for good faith acts or omissions consistent with the provisions of the bill.  NJSBA supports the bill.

Sensitivity TrainingA-4679 requires the education commissioner to develop an interscholastic sports sensitivity training program for high school athletic directors, coaches, and sports officials.  The training program is required to provide information on topics including, but not limited to: gender and sexual orientation; race and ethnicity; disabilities; religious tolerance; unconscious bias; and diversity and inclusion.  The bill also directs the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) to require each person who coaches an interscholastic high school sport, and an athletic director who oversees an interscholastic high school sports program, to complete the training program every four years. Each newly appointed coach or athletic director must initially complete the training program during his first year in that position.  Finally, the bill provides that when an individual applies to a sports officials’ chapter or association, the individual must certify that he or she has completed the training program.  An active sports official must complete the training program every four years. NJSBA did not take a position on the measure.

Student Self-Administration of MedicationA-4799 requires a district or nonpublic school to permit the self-administration by a pupil of hydrocortisone sodium succinate, a medication designed to treat adrenal insufficiency.  Adrenal insufficiency is a disorder in which the adrenal glands fail to produce sufficient amounts of steroid hormones, such as the stress hormone cortisol.  Inadequate levels of adrenal hormones can result in an adrenal crisis, which may be life threatening without proper immediate treatment.  The existing statutory provisions governing self-administration of medication for asthma or a life-threatening illness or allergic reaction would apply to the self-administration of adrenal insufficiency medication.  The bill also requires that school districts establish a policy for the emergency administration of such medication.  The policy would be modeled on the policy currently required for the emergency administration of epinephrine to pupils for anaphylaxis.  NJSBA supports the measure.

New Anti-Bullying Task ForceA-4848/S-2575 establishes an 11-member task force to examine, evaluate, and make recommendations regarding the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.”  Nine members of the task force will have a background or special knowledge of the legal, policy, educational, social, or psychological aspects of bullying in public schools. The task force also will include two members of the public, a family member of a student who has experienced bullying and a student over the age of 17 who personally has experienced bullying. The task force will examine and evaluate the effectiveness of the implementation of the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.” It will also examine any unintended consequences resulting from implementation of the act and its regulations including, but not limited to, impacts of the law on athletic coaches; and present any recommendations deemed necessary and appropriate to modify or update the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act” and its implementing regulations. NJSBA supports the bill.

Minimum Wage Measure on the Fast Track

Over the last week, both Senate and Assembly committees have been advancing legislation that would increase the statewide minimum wage.  Increasing the minimum wage has been a top legislative priority for Governor Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, and the three have been negotiating over the details of the legislation for several months. The bills released on Monday constitute the compromise they recently reached, which could receive final legislative approval by the end of this week.

The Senate version of the bill, S-15, was first heard and advanced by the Senate Labor Committee last Thursday.  On Monday, the Assembly Appropriations Committee took up its lower house counterpart, A-15, while the Senate Budget and Appropriations further deliberated S-15.  The bills passed along party lines in all three committees.

The current minimum wage is $8.85 per hour and is adjusted annually for inflation.  A-15/S-15 would gradually increase the minimum wage over several years, with the goal of getting to $15 per hour for most workers by the beginning of 2024. The first increase to $10 per hour would take effect on July 1, 2019, and then go up again to $11 on January 1, 2020.  It will increase by one dollar every year thereafter until January 1, 2024.  After reaching $15 per hour, the minimum wage will continue to rise by the rate of inflation, as required by the State Constitution.  The bill provides for a slower phase-in period for employees of small employers and seasonal workers, who will reach $15 in 2028.

Currently, the state minimum wage law only applies to private business and does not apply to state or local governing bodies, including school districts (See Allen v Fauver 327 Super. 14 (App. Div. 1999)).  These entities do have to comply with the federal minimum wage law.  However, the bills advancing through the Legislature would explicitly apply the state minimum wage law to the state, counties, municipalities and school districts.  Should the bills pass in their current form and receive the governor’s approval, these public entities would need to implement the increases in minimum wage for any employees now earning less than that amount.

While the Association supports paying school employees a fair wage and sufficient compensation to attract and retain a high-quality workforce, the NJSBA opposes the legislation in its current form. Joined by its local government partners from the New Jersey Association of Counties, and New Jersey State League of Municipalities, the NJSBA argued that applying the wage increases to local governing bodies, which must operate within a hard 2 percent property tax levy cap, will place stress on their budgets and could result in the reduction of staff and services.  The NJSBA argued that the increase could also increase the cost of contracted goods and services.  In addition, applying the increases to student workers could place a strain on district budgets and lead to a reduction in valuable work experiences for such students.

The local government organizations requested that the existing exemption from the state minimum wage law be maintained. The NJSBA also urged the Legislature to conduct a more thorough analysis on the impact that applying the state minimum wage to school districts and other local governing units would have on their finances and operations.

The bills released from committee on Monday have been scheduled for a floor vote in each house this coming Thursday. If passed, they will head to Governor Murphy’s desk.