On Dec. 21, 2023, the Senate and Assembly met and granted final legislative approval to several education measures, sending them to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk for further action. The governor also signed two previously conditionally vetoed bills into law.

Signed by the Governor

Electric School Bus Program Appropriation: P.L.2023, c.192 (S-3044) makes a supplemental appropriation of $15 million in the fiscal year 2024 budget to fund the first year of the Electric School Bus Program authorized by P.L.2022, c.86. In June, prior to the enactment of the fiscal year 2024 budget, the Legislature passed an initial version of the bill that made the supplemental appropriation in fiscal year 2023. The governor conditionally vetoed that version to address this timing technicality by moving the appropriation to fiscal year 2024. In December 2023, the Legislature concurred with that conditional veto, amended the bill accordingly, and sent it back to the governor, who signed it into law Dec. 21, 2023.

Compostable Food Waste P.L.2023, c.193 (S-3153) authorizes a school to deliver compostable or anaerobically digestible food waste generated by that school to another school, as long as the receiving school accepts the waste and composts it in an in-vessel composting or anaerobic digestion system. The Legislature initially passed the bill in June 2023, which was subsequently conditionally vetoed by the governor in November. In December, the Legislature amended the bill to concur with the governor’s conditional veto and sent it back to him for final action. The governor signed the bill into law Dec. 21, 2023. For additional information about the governor’s conditional veto, please see the Nov. 28 School Board Notes article “Legislators Return to Trenton; Governor Acts on Education-Related Items.”

On the Governor’s Desk

Expedited Certification Route for Paraprofessionals A-5416/S-3883 would require the New Jersey State Board of Education to authorize an alternate, expedited route to teacher certification for paraprofessionals and instructional assistants. In developing the requirements for that expedited certification, the commissioner of education would be required to consult with representatives of the education community, including the New Jersey School Boards Association. The expedited route would 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.” The NJSBA supports the bill.

As detailed in a May 31, 2023, School Board Notes article, a previous version of the bill passed by the Assembly in May, included language that NJSBA worried may have been interpreted as requiring school districts to offer a paraprofessional pursuing teacher certification a spot as a student teacher. Believing that such decisions should be made locally and on an individual basis, the NJSBA, in coordination with several other education stakeholder associations, advocated for and obtained amendments preserving that local personnel decision-making authority. The bill is now on the governor’s desk awaiting further action.

Transferring of County College Credits to Meet EPP Requirements A-5417/S-3890 would prohibit educator preparation programs from restricting the number of accredited county college professional education credits that may be used to meet the teacher certification requirements of an educator preparation program, except as may be required by the EPP’s accrediting organization. The bill would also prohibit the NJDOE from restricting the number of accredited county college credits in professional education that can be accepted toward meeting teacher certification requirements, provided that the credits are accepted by an EPP (in April 2023, the State Board of Education adopted amendments to its certification regulations that removed the six-credit limit on courses in professional education completed on the two-year college level). The bill is part of the legislative package spearheaded by Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Pamela Lampitt to address the ongoing teacher shortage. The NJSBA supports the package. The bill now awaits further action by the governor.

Providing School Meal Info to Parents S-530/A-5164 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 2022 (the “Working Class Families Anti-Hunger Act” P.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, the bill 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 now awaits action by the governor.

Emergency Bonding Authority S-1892/A-4501 authorizes Type II school districts without boards of school estimate, excluding those districts that are classified as New Jersey Schools Development Authority districts, to issue bonds to finance costs relating to repairs to school facilities and other furnishings and equipment that were damaged due to a natural disaster. Under the bill, the bonds may be issued without the approval of the voters of the district of a Type II school district without a board of school estimate. The bill requires that a district may only issue bonds if the repairs are deemed to be necessary to provide a thorough and efficient system of education.

This legislation was originally introduced in response to the increased incidents of extreme weather, such as Hurricane Ida, to streamline the financing process for school repairs related to natural disasters by permitting the issuance of bonds by school districts, without the need for a referendum. The NJSBA supports the bill, which now sits on the governor’s desk.

VETeach Pilot Program S-2764/A-4361 would establish the “VETeach Pilot Program” in the NJDOE designed to help address the educator shortage by helping facilitate teacher certification for the state’s veterans. Under the pilot program, up to four four-year public institutions of higher education selected by the commissioner of education would enroll in a 36-month teacher preparation program catering to veterans who served in the armed forces on or after Sept. 11, 2001. The program would lead to a baccalaureate degree and completion of the requirements necessary to apply to the NJDOE for a certificate of eligibility with advanced standing in certain endorsement areas. The bill is modeled on legislation that established a similar program at Stockton University in 2012 (P.L.2012, c.2). NJSBA supports the bill, which now awaits action by the governor.

Grief Instruction S-3330/A-5015 would require the State Board of Education to adopt, and districts to implement, New Jersey Student Learning Standards pertaining to grief in the Comprehensive Health and Physical Education content area at its next required update of the standards. The standards would be included in grades 8 to 12 and would address the physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms of grief; coping mechanisms; and resources available to students. The New Jersey Department of Education would be required to provide districts with age-appropriate resources to support implementation of the standards. The NJSBA supports the bill, which now sits on the governor’s desk.

QPA Award of Certain Contracts A-5501 would permit certain school district contracts to be awarded by a qualified purchasing agent. Specifically, the bill would amend public school contracts law to stipulate that a contract having an anticipated value in excess of $17,500, but below the applicable bidding threshold, is not required to be awarded by a board of education and may be awarded by a purchasing agent that holds a qualified purchasing agent certificate. The bill, which originally pertained only to bid thresholds for public research universities and was later amended to add language amendment school district contracting rules, passed the Assembly Higher Education Committee on June 5, 2023, and the Assembly and the Senate on Dec. 21. It now sits on the governor’s desk.

The General Assembly Also Passed the Following Bills

School Bus Cameras A-545 permits the use of video cameras to crack down on motorists illegally passing school buses. More specifically, the bill authorizes the use of a school bus monitoring system to assist in the enforcement of existing law that prohibits motor vehicles from passing a school bus while it is stopped to pick up or drop off students. Alleged school bus passing violations captured by such a monitoring system would be compiled into an evidence file and forwarded to the chief law enforcement officer of the municipality. If law enforcement determines that a violation has occurred, a summons would be issued. The money from any fines would be used for general municipal and school district purposes, including efforts to improve the monitoring and enforcement of the unlawful passing of school buses and the provision of public education safety programs. The bill would also increase the fines for any violations of the no-passing law, regardless of whether they are captured by a video camera or through police observations.

The NJSBA supports the measure, which was advanced by the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee on Nov. 30, and then by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Dec. 4. It is now pending in the Senate Transportation Committee.

Revisions to School Facilities Law and SDA Operations A-4496 would make various changes to the laws governing school facilities projects and the operations of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority. Since it was last amended and passed by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Dec. 4, the bill has been further amended to:

  • Remove “enrollment projections” from the list of information that districts must include in the newly established school-level capital improvement plans.
  • Establish certain documentation requirements for school districts to qualify for the district aid percentage increase for projects that incorporate energy efficiency improvements.
  • Modify the flexibility established by the bill for school districts to issue bonds to fund the local share of a school facilities project without voter approval if the district enters into an agreement with a municipality to receive a certain share of PILOT revenue. A previous version of the bill required the school district to receive at least 60% of a property’s PILOT revenue to qualify for the flexibility; the current bill does not specify a certain percentage but rather allows the flexibility if the district receives a the portion of PILOT revenue sufficient for the full repayment of the bonds.
  • Provide that, if the aggregate amount of a loan for a charter school facilities project provided under the bill exceeds $5 million, the Economic Development Authority is to require that the school facilities project be subject to a project labor agreement.
  • Modify the process for reversion of outstanding debt and a charter school’s title provided for in the charter school facilities loan program when a charter school ceases operation. A previous version of the bill outlined a process by which the outstanding debt and title would revert to the local district or the state; under the current version, the local district would no longer be on the hook for the outstanding debt but would retain the right of first refusal of the facility.

The bill was referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, where it is scheduled for a vote Jan. 4.

Administering Seizure Medication A-5336 requires a board of education to develop a policy in accordance with the guidelines established by the Department of Education for the emergency administration of nasal seizure rescue medication and the emergency use of a manual vagus nerve stimulator on a student with a seizure disorder.  Pursuant to the policy, the school nurse is to have the primary responsibility for the administration of nasal seizure rescue medication.  The certified school nurse is required to designate at least two additional employees of the school district who volunteer to administer the nasal seizure rescue medication and use a manual vagus nerve stimulator on a student when the school nurse is not physically present at the scene. The NJSBA is working with the sponsor of the legislation on amendments to ensure that any new requirements regarding care for students with seizure disorders are embedded as smoothly as possible within the framework of existing seizure care requirements, particularly the seizure action plan development process required by “Paul’s Law” (P.L.2019, c.290). The bill was approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee Dec. 18, and now heads to the Senate Education Committee for further consideration.

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