In addition to approving state spending plan for fiscal year 2025, the Senate and General Assembly acted on a number of other pieces of legislation affecting local school districts at their final voting sessions before heading into the traditional summer recess. Below is a rundown of any education-related measures that advanced last Friday.

Bills Signed into Law

The following bill received final legislative approval and was promptly signed into law by the governor:

Eliminating “Basic Skills” Requirement A-1669/S-1287 (P.L.2024, c.26) would eliminate the requirement that candidates for instructional certificates complete a New Jersey Department of Education-approved test of basic reading, writing and mathematics skills, including but not limited to the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators test. The exemption will not apply to candidates seeking an instructional certificate pursuant to the pilot program that established a limited certificate of eligibility or a limited certificate of eligibility with advanced standing. This bill also prohibits the State Board of Education from requiring an educator preparation program to require the completion of a test of basic reading, writing and mathematics skills, including the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators test, as a condition for admission.

The bill also repeals P.L.2023, c.180, which permits a teacher candidate who meets all criteria for a certificate of eligibility, other than the requirement to meet certain minimum testing thresholds in the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators test, to receive an alternative certificate of eligibility. A-1669/S-1287 essentially negates the need for that law.

The New Jersey School Boards Association supports the measure, which becomes effective in six months.

On the Governor’s Desk

The following bills have passed both houses of the Legislature and await action by the governor.

Purchasing E-Buses and Expanding the ACES Program S-3263/A-1677 authorizes a board of education to enter into extended contracts and lease terms for electric school buses. The bill also permits the NJSBA to serve as a government aggregator to obtain energy services for local units.

Under current law, a school district may enter into a contract for the leasing of school buses for a term not exceeding 10 years. The bill provides that a school district may enter into a contract for the leasing of electric school buses and related charging equipment and services for a term not in excess of the service life of the vehicle. The bill similarly amends existing law to extend the terms of a lease purchase agreement for electric school buses.

S-3263/A-1677 also amends current law to provide that the NJSBA may serve as a government aggregator to obtain electric school buses and related goods and services. That law already permits the NJSBA to serve as a government aggregator for the procurement of electric and natural gas services for its members. In 1999, the NJSBA established the Alliance for Competitive Energy Services program pursuant to that authority, and the program has generated significant financial savings for participating districts. At the request of the NJSBA, the bill was amended to allow counties, municipalities and other local contracting units to voluntarily participate in the program, which should serve to generate even greater economic benefits.

The NJSBA supports the bill.

Literacy Initiatives The following two bills are aimed at enhancing student literacy:

The first bill, A-2288/S-2647, creates the Office of Learning Equity and Academic Recovery within the NJDOE. This office will “promote student literacy and advance learning equity through academic recovery practices” and is charged with the following duties:

  • Improving the capacity of the NJDOE to make data-driven decisions regarding literacy and learning equity policies.
  • Coordinating resources within the NJDOE to promote the implementation of effective literacy and learning acceleration policies.
  • Conducting research on best practices in the areas of literacy, learning equity and learning acceleration.
  • Supporting school districts in developing and implementing best practices.
  • Supporting the NJDOE in seeking out funding, professional development and other policy supports that promote literacy and learning equity.

The second literacy bill, A-4303/S-2644, requires the NJDOE to establish a working group on student literacy; mandates universal literacy screenings for kindergarten through grade three students; and requires professional development for certain school district employees.

Key aspects of the legislation follow below:

  • Establishes a Working Group on Student Literacy to provide recommendations to the NJDOE regarding implementation of evidence-based literacy strategies, appropriate and reliable instruments for universal literacy screening, and high-quality literacy instructional materials. Following review of the recommendations, the NJDOE will develop and publish guidance for use by school districts beginning with the 2025-2026 school year.
  • Beginning with the 2025-2026 school year, each school district will be required to conduct literacy screenings for every student in kindergarten through grade three at least twice annually to determine their reading proficiency. Following such screening, districts will provide students with any necessary supports, consistent with each district’s intervention and referral services. (Note: The fiscal year 2025 state budget approved last week includes $5.25 million for literacy screenings.) 
  • Districts will notify parents of the results of the required literacy screening along with information concerning the range of supports available to assist the student in meeting grade-level proficiency goals.
  • The NJDOE will establish an online resource center to aid districts in the selection of evidence-based, high-quality instructional materials as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in English Language Arts.
  • By July 2025, the NJDOE will also establish a professional development program regarding evidence-based foundational literacy instruction, which will be available to all school districts at no cost. School districts will use this professional development program, or any other similar evidence-based literacy instructional material, to annually provide professional development to various categories of staff members, such as teachers and library media specialists serving preschool through grade six and those serving multilingual learners and students with disabilities. Districts will also provide training to school administrators on the design and implementation of high-quality literacy instruction.

The NJSBA supported both measures. In recent months, the NJSBA participated in a working group, convened by Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz, who spearheaded the legislation, to review the bills and collaborate on their development. While supportive of the goals of the legislation, the NJSBA also advocated for necessary funding and resources to ease implementation of the bills’ provisions. The final budget approved by the Legislature includes over $5 million in state funding to support literacy screenings for students in grades K-3. A joint statement submitted by the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, the New Jersey Education Association, the Garden State Coalition of Schools and the NJSBA can be found here.

Second Questions at Special Elections A-4084/S-2837 authorizes school districts to submit separate proposals for additional spending for the subsequent budget year at a special school election. Under current law, a school district may submit to the voters at the annual school election, a separate question or proposal for permission to raise additional funds for the budget year beyond the district’s authorized tax levy.  This bill would allow districts to submit proposals to voters at a special school election to raise such additional funds for the subsequent school budget year. Special school elections may occur in January, March, September and December.  A separate proposal or proposals may only be submitted on a date of a special election once during a school year. The NJSBA supports the bill.

Increasing Workers Comp Fees S-282/A-39862 revises the workers’ compensation law to increase the cap in contingency fee matters from 20% to 25%. The NJSBA opposes the bill, which has the potential to increase costs for school districts.

Passed General Assembly Only

The following bills have passed the General Assembly and head to the Senate:

Freedom To Read A-3446, also known as the “Freedom to Read Act,” establishes various requirements for material in public school libraries and public libraries. It also aims to protect school library staff from harassment.

Under the bill, all boards of education will need to adopt policies on the curation of school library material and requests for the removal of any such material from the school library. These policies will be subject to various minimum requirements, but the board of education will maintain control over such policies. The commissioner of education will develop model policies to assist boards of education in complying with the bill. The NJSBA is explicitly named in the bill as one of the organizations that the commissioner is required to consult with in developing both of these model policies. The state librarian and the New Jersey Association of School Librarians will also be consulted.

According to the bill, the purpose of the curation policy is to: provide standards for the curation of library material; establish criteria for the removal of existing school library material or material selected for inclusion in the library; and provide protection against attempts to censor library material. The policies shall:

  1. Recognize that library material should be provided for the interest, information and enlightenment of all students and should present diverse points of view.
  2. Acknowledge that library material shall not be removed from a library because of the origin, background, or views of the material or those contributing to its creation.
  3. Recognize the importance of school libraries as centers for voluntary inquiry and the dissemination of information and ideas.
  4. Promote the free expression and free access to ideas by students by prohibiting the censorship of library material. (Note: “Censorship,” as defined in the bill, does not include the limiting or restricting of access to any library material deemed developmentally inappropriate for certain students.)
  5. Acknowledge that a school library media specialist is professionally trained to curate and develop the school library collection that provides students with access to the widest array of developmentally appropriate library material.
  6. Establish a procedure for a school library media specialist to review library material within a school library on an ongoing basis.

Boards of education will have discretion over the selection, purchase or acquisition of school library material. Nothing in the bill will require a board to acquire any library material, nor will it restrict the board’s authority to select textbooks and supplies related to the curriculum.

The bill delineates the following components that must be included in the removal policy:

  1. Provide for the creation of a request for removal form, based on a model removal form developed by the New Jersey Department of Education.
  2. Require the principal to forward any request to the superintendent, who will appoint a review committee consisting of the following:
  • The superintendent (or designee).
  • The principal of the school (or designee).
  • The school library media specialist or a school library staff member.
  • A representative selected by the board of education.
  • At least one grade-appropriate teacher familiar with the material.
  • A parent or guardian of a student enrolled in the district.
  • At the discretion of the superintendent, in cases where a student enrolled in the district in grades nine through 12 filed the removal form, a student may volunteer to serve.
  • Any additional members the superintendent deems necessary.
  1. Require that the challenged material remain within the library until there is a final decision reached by the board of education on whether to remove it.
  2. Require the review committee to evaluate the request for removal form, review the challenged material and report its recommendations on whether to remove the library material to the board of education no later than 60 school days from the date of the next regularly scheduled board meeting.
  3. Require the board of education to review the report and make a final determination on whether the material is to be removed from the library or limited in use. The board shall provide a written statement of reasons for the removal, limitation, or non-removal of a material, as well as any final determination that is contrary to the committee’s recommendations. This statement will be posted on the board’s website.

Any library material challenged under policy may not be subject to a subsequent challenge for at least one year. Districts will also be permitted to consolidate requests for removal of the same material. Removal requests may be submitted by any of the following individuals deemed to have a “vested interest” in the school: a teacher, a parent/guardian of a student, or an enrolled student. The form shall require the requestor to specify which sections of the material the individual objects to and an explanation of the reasons for the objection.

The bill prohibits a board of education from engaging in censorship or from removing material because of the origin, background or views of the material. Students will be granted the right to check out any developmentally appropriate material. In addition, school library staff will be granted civil and criminal immunity, so long as they perform their duties in good faith.

The NJSBA supports the overall spirit and intent of the bill and worked closely with the sponsors and other stakeholders to develop this most recent version of the legislation. During Assembly committee deliberations, the NJSBA cited its official policy concerning academic freedom and student access to instructional and library materials. In particular, the Association referred to the following policy language adopted at the December 2023 Delegate Assembly:

The NJSBA believes that boards of education have the responsibility to ensure all instructional materials are age-appropriate, complement the district curriculum and/or student support programs, facilitate critical thinking, further learning, and are congruent with local community preferences.  In light of this belief, a board of education book selection process should only restrict access to or exclude a book or other learning materials from its curriculum, library, or other support resources following a process that evaluates the book or materials in a manner that is consistent with the constitutional and statutory protections afforded individuals by the state.

The testimony also highlighted a number of key ways that the bill reinforces the authority of local boards of education and allows them to remain responsive to community preferences, including:

  • Explicitly clarifying that the board of education maintains control over both the curation and removal request policies required under the bill.
  • Explicitly specifies that boards retain the authority and discretion over selecting any materials included in the school library.
  • Regarding those materials, while requiring that they be diverse and inclusive, it also provides important discretion to the board by stipulating that such material will not include content that is inappropriate for the grades served by the library.
  • Specifying that the bill does not in any way restrict a board’s authority to select textbooks or supplies related to the curriculum.
  • Protecting the board from any potential accusations of censorship by continuing to allow it to limit or restrict access to any library deemed developmentally inappropriate for certain students.
  • Ensuring that the board will make the final determination over any request for removal of materials and will have the ultimate authority to decide whether to remove, not remove, or limit access to such materials.
  • Insulating the board from interference by individuals or organizations with no connection to the district by limiting who can submit requests to remove library materials.

Stakeholder Feedback on Educational Adequacy Report  A-4048 would require the governor and the NJDOE to engage “a diverse group of stakeholders, including school administrators, staff, students, parents, and other community members,” in developing the next Educational Adequacy Report to identify the resources that are not currently adequately funded through state school aid. The administration would also be required to consult various school finance experts for recommendations on revising various SFRA parameters updated in each EAR. Under current law, the EAR is required to be issued every three years by the governor, in consultation with the commissioner of education. The purpose of the report is to update the various parameters used to calculate state aid to school districts. The next EAR is scheduled to be issued by Sept. 1, 2025. The NJSBA supports the bill.

TPAF Reenrollment Changes A-1675 extends the length of time a member of the teachers’ pension system (Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund, or TPAF) can discontinue their service and still maintain their membership in the system. Under current law, membership in the TPAF ceases if an individual discontinues service for more than two years. This bill extends the period of discontinuance to 10 years. The bill also extends the length of time a member who left service for certain qualifying reasons (e.g., due to a reduction in force) may return to service and includes among the qualifying reasons those who voluntarily left service with 10 or more years of service credit.  Under current law, membership in the TPAF may continue if such a member returns to service within a period of 10 years from the date of discontinuance from service. This bill extends the period of discontinuance to 15 years. Members who return to service under the terms of this bill will be placed in the member’s pension tier at the time of their original termination of service.

The NJSBA is monitoring the bill. The legislation would have no direct impact on school district finances, as the state pays the employer share of TPAF costs on behalf of boards of education. The bill also explicitly states that there will be no additional contributions imposed on the reenrolled member or the member’s employee.

Tax Deduction for Classroom Supplies A-3416 would allow educators to deduct from their gross income for the taxable year up to $250 in unreimbursed expenses for the purchase of classroom supplies. K-12 teachers, counselors, speech language specialists, principals and aides that provide at least 900 hours of service in a public or private school would be eligible. The NJSBA supports the bill, which has also advanced through the Senate Education Committee.

Pension Boost for Extracurriculars A-3323 requires pay for extracurricular activities to be included in compensation for a teacher’s pension (i.e., TPAF) purposes. Such extra pay is not included in the current pension compensation definition. Under the bill, extracurricular duties include preparation for and involvement in public performances, contests, athletic competitions, demonstrations, displays and club activities. The NJSBA is monitoring the bill.

Promoting Universal School Meals ACR-115 urges the United States Congress to pass the “Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021.” This federal legislation would provide free breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack to all schoolchildren regardless of their socioeconomic background. The legislation also eliminates school food debt and reimburses schools for all delinquent school meal debt. The NJSBA supports the resolution.

Passed Senate Only

The following bill has passed the Senate and heads to the General Assembly:

Compensation Transparency S-2310 requires all New Jersey employers to make reasonable efforts to announce, post, or otherwise make known opportunities for promotion that are advertised internally or externally on internet-based advertisements, postings, printed flyers, or other similar advertisements to all current employees in the affected department or departments of the employer’s business prior to making a promotion decision. The bill also requires employers to disclose in each posting for new jobs and transfer opportunities that are advertised by the employer either externally or internally the hourly wage or salary, or a range of the hourly wage or salary, and a general description of benefits and other compensation programs for which the employee would be eligible. The legislation also establishes penalties for noncompliance. The NJSBA is monitoring the bill, which has also passed through two Assembly committees.

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