Over the past couple of weeks, Gov. Phil Murphy signed various bills affecting public school districts and students into law, including one that would establish a study commission to explore the impact social media usage is having on students’ health and education. A rundown of each new law follows below.

Social Media Impact Study S-715/A-1992 (P.L.2023, c.126) establishes a “Commission on the Effects of Social Media Usage on Adolescents” to study the extent of social media usage in and out of public schools, and to determine the effects that use has on students’ health and academic performance.

Under this law, the commission will work to determine:

  • The extent of social media usage both in and out of public schools, including the average amount of time students in various age groups spend each day on electronic devices.
  • The effects of use on the emotional health of students, including incidents of depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia, harassment, intimidation/bullying, or other disruptive behaviors.
  • The effects that use has on the academic performance of students.
  • The effects that use has on the physical health of students, including incidents of sleep deprivation, weight loss or gain, or high blood pressure.
  • The establishment of social media usage standards, including limiting the amount of time students spend on electronic devices during the school day.
  • Effective strategies to mitigate the adverse effects of social media usage on student health and academic performance.

The commission is also empowered to consider any other proposals concerning the use of social media that it feels would help improve the health and the academic performance of students. Following the completion of its work, the commission will submit a final report with findings and recommendations to the governor and Legislature.

The New Jersey School Boards Association supported the bill and will have a representative on the commission alongside other education stakeholder associations.

Upon the bill’s enactment, Dr. Timothy Purnell, NJSBA executive director and CEO, issued the following statement through a press release issued by the governor’s office.

The New Jersey School Boards Association thanks Gov. Murphy and the Legislature for their work in establishing the Commission on the Effects of Social Media Usage on Adolescents.

In the last few years, there has been an alarming increase in the number of students with mental health challenges. School districts have needed to add counseling staff and services to help address this crisis.

NJSBA believes that the effects of social media on the development of children have not been fully researched, and we lack an understanding of the long-term impact of this technology. That view was supported by the May 23 advisory warning from the United States surgeon general, who said that there are ample indicators that social media can have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.

As one of the organizations that will be represented on the Commission, we look forward to working on this important effort to strengthen student mental health, and we commend New Jersey’s leaders for taking this critical step to protect the health of our students.

Expanding Medicaid-Funded School Health Services A-3334 (P.L.2023, c.108) is designed to expand the state’s school-based Medicaid reimbursement program to include covered behavioral health services. NJSBA supported the bill throughout the legislative process.

The state’s current program – the Special Education Medicaid Initiative –reimburses school districts a portion of the costs of certain Medicaid-covered services provided to Medicaid-eligible special education students. Under the current program, covered services include health-related evaluation services, audiology, nursing services, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, psychological counseling/psychotherapeutic counseling and specialized transportation services. Covered services must be included in the student’s Individualized Education Plan and be administered by a SEMI-qualified health care provider under state and federal statutes and regulations. Importantly, services provided without charge to all students, such as health screenings, are currently not reimbursable. For additional information on the current SEMI program, please see the New Jersey Treasury’s SEMI webpage here.

This new law requires the New Jersey Department of Human Services to seek federal approval to expand New Jersey’s school-based Medicaid reimbursement program to include behavioral health services covered under Medicaid. Under the law, covered behavioral health services include those that are delivered in-person or via telehealth to any student – general education or students with IEPs, 504 Plans, Individualized Health Care Plans, or Individualized Family Services Plans – who is an eligible Medicaid beneficiary. Additionally, such behavioral health services must be provided by a licensed medical practitioner approved as a Medicaid provider or a local educational agency approved as a Medicaid provider and will be reimbursable regardless of whether the service is provided at no charge to the student.

LEAs that receive Medicaid reimbursement payments for covered behavioral health services under this law must reinvest those payments into behavioral health services for students and their families.

The law further includes provisions designed to:

  • Ensure that Medicaid remains the payer of last resort.
  • Ensure that students receiving covered services provided by the LEA are not prohibited from receiving behavioral health services from a Medicaid provider other than the LEA, provided that the services comply with all state and federal laws and regulations.
  • Prevent reimbursement for services provided by the LEA in tandem with duplicative services provided by another approved Medicaid provider in the community to the same student, to the extent that state or federal law or regulation prohibit such duplicative services.
  • Preserve school-based Medicaid’s parental consent requirements for the provision of covered behavioral health services.
  • Require the NJDOE, NJDHS, and Treasury to support LEAs in submitting Medicaid claims and obtaining reimbursement, such as promoting streamlining of all school-based Medicaid claims and allowing LEAs to enter into agreements with one or more other LEAs to contract with a third party to process and submit Medicaid claims for covered behavioral health services.

The law will go into effect six months after the state obtains any federal approval necessary to secure federal financial participation for Medicaid expenditures under the law.

Suicide Prevention Training S-528 (P.L.2023, c.111) requires additional school district personnel to complete a training program on suicide prevention. Prior to this law, public school teaching staff members received instruction in suicide prevention as part of their professional development requirements. This law provides that a school district employee who was not subject to that requirement, and an employee of a contracted service provider who has regular contact with students, will be required to complete a one-time training program in suicide prevention, awareness and response identified by the NJDOE. The law also specifies certain circumstances under which a person newly required to complete the training would have a duty to warn and protect. The NJSBA supported the measure throughout the legislative process. In a previous session, the NJSBA was successful in securing amendments to the legislation requiring the NJDOE to identify training programs that could be completed at no cost to school districts or covered individuals in order to comply with the new requirement. This new law went into effect immediately upon the governor’s signing but will remain inoperative until the NJDOE has identified and made such training programs available to school districts.

Extending Flexibility to Hire Retirees S-3798 (P.L.2023, c.121) extends the flexibility for school districts to hire retirees for the 2023-2024 school year. It extends the policy that was allowed under P.L.2021, c.408, which the governor signed into law in January 2021. That law permitted, for the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years, school districts to temporarily hire retired teachers and professional staff members providing special services for up to two years without reenrollment in the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund. NJSBA supported the bill, which is aimed at alleviating staffing shortages.

School District Special Elections A-5175 (P.L.2023, c.124) makes changes to various general election deadlines. In relevant part, the law preserves the December school district special election date. The September special election date remains the last Tuesday of the month. The law, at NJSBA’s urging, also preserves the ability of April election districts to place a second question on the ballot.

 Military Impact Aid Reserve Account S-3089 (P.L.2023, c.112) permits a school district that received unanticipated state military impact aid revenue in the 2021-2022 school year (pursuant to P.L.2022, c.19, which ensured an allocation of military impact aid for Rockaway Township School District and Tinton Falls School District) to establish a state military impact aid reserve account. The law permits such a district to appropriate the unanticipated state military impact aid revenue to establish the reserve account in the district’s annual budget, or through transfer by a two-thirds affirmative vote of the authorized membership of the board, for withdrawal in any subsequent school year. Any transfer to the reserve account may not exceed the total amount of unanticipated state military impact aid revenue. The district, at its discretion, may use the funds in the reserve account for general fund expenses. The law requires the reserve account to be established and held in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles and provides that the account would be subject to an annual audit. NJSBA supported the bill.

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