On Wednesday, June 29, both chambers of the New Jersey Legislature held voting sessions that sent the state fiscal year 2023 appropriations act and various education measures to the governor’s desk.

FY23 Appropriations Act Less than 24 hours after the getting legislative approval, Gov. Murphy signed the FY23 Appropriations Act (S-2023/A-4402) on Thursday, June 30. The budget, for the year that began July 1, 2022, provides a total of $18.60 billion to the New Jersey Department of Education, a 3% increase over last year, and keeps New Jersey on the path to fully funding the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) by fiscal year 2025 according to the schedule set forth by the school funding reform law commonly referred to as “S-2.”  Other budget highlights include:

  • $30 million in Stabilization Aid, designed to assist districts in implementing plans to adjust to their new funding levels under S-2. This represents a $10 million, or 50% increase over the governor’s March 2022 proposal. The NJSBA supports increasing Stabilization Aid funds. As we detailed in our March 2022 testimony on the governor’s proposal, NJSBA recognizes that significant inflationary pressures and supply chain challenges may make transitional support necessary to avoid cuts in staff, programs, and services for districts experiencing state aid reductions.
  • $420 million in Extraordinary Special Education Costs Aid, a $20 million or 5% increase over the governor’s March 2022 proposal and the fiscal year 2022 amount. Increasing Extraordinary Special Education Costs Aid to levels necessary to meet 100% of eligible costs has been a longtime priority of the NJSBA.
  • $85 million to continue support for capital maintenance projects and emergent needs in school districts, including $75 million for traditional districts (same as fiscal year 2022 and the governor’s proposal) and $10 million for charter schools (a $5 million increase over fiscal year 2022 and the governor’s proposal).
  • $1.9 billion appropriated from the New Jersey Debt Defeasance and Prevention Fund to the New Jersey School Development Authority (SDA) for school facilities projects, emergent needs, and capital maintenance projects in school districts. Of that, $1.55 billion would be dedicated to SDA districts and $350 million to all other districts. This represents a significant expansion of the state’s allocation to SDA for facility project work. The governor’s proposed budget included a $350 million direct appropriation to SDA to support projects in SDA districts, which was a $150 million or 75% increase over fiscal year 2022’s $200 million figure.
  • $10 million for the Local Efficiency Achievement Program (LEAP).
  • $5 million to implement L.2021, c.402, the school district regionalization law enacted in January 2022.
  • $120 million in federal funds received by the state through the American Rescue Plan State Fiscal Recovery Fund (ARP SFRF) for a Universal Pre-K Facilities Fund in SDA.

For additional information on the fiscal year 2023 budget, please see NJSBA’s June 28 summary of the bill, and full budget documents on the NJ Legislature’s webpage.

Signed by the Governor  In addition to the state budget, the governor also signed the following measures into law:

NJGPA as Field Test for Class of 2023 A-3196/S-2349, signed into law by the governor on July 5, requires the State Board of Education to administer the New Jersey Graduation Proficiency Assessment as a “field test” for the class of 2023.  Under no circumstances would results of the field test, a substitute competency test (e.g., SAT, ACT, other substitute competency assessments approved by the Department of Education), or any other demonstration of proficiency through techniques and instruments other than a standardized test (i.e., the portfolio appeals process) be used as a prerequisite for graduation for students expected to graduate as part of the class of 2023. The goal of the legislation is to better understand the extent and severity of learning loss among its students and develop graduation assessments that are not only realistic and achievable, but appropriately rigorous. NJSBA supported the bill.

Extending Service Life of School Buses S-2593/A-3990 (P.L.2022, c.41) extends, for the 2022-2023 school year only, the statutorily permitted service of school buses by one year. The owner of the school bus must make a request for this extension to the chief administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. For the 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 school years, the law allows the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, in consultation with the NJDOE and upon request by the owner of the school bus, to permit an additional year of service for any school bus used in the prior year that would otherwise be retired, provided any inspections of the school bus determine that it is safe. NJSBA supported the legislation. A school bus may only receive one extension under this law.

Supplemental Military Impact Aid S-1929/A-3668 (P.L.2022, c.19) makes a supplemental appropriation of $1,135,749 to the fiscal year 2022 stabilization aid line item to provide state military impact aid to certain districts and in certain amounts as defined by the bill. It is estimated that this supplemental appropriation would provide the Rockaway Township School District and the Tinton Falls School District with military impact aid in the amounts of $320,582 and $815,167, respectively. NJSBA supported the bill.

Bills On Governor’s Desk  Both chambers of the legislature have now approved the following bills, which now await action by the governor:

Free School Meal Expansions A-2368/S-1677, designated as the “Working Class Families’ Anti-Hunger Act,” requires schools to provide free school breakfasts and lunches to students from working class, middle-income families. The bill is a part of a 10-bill package spearheaded by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin aimed at combating hunger and expanding programs for working-class families, seniors and disabled residents.

Currently, students from “low-income” households, defined as those with an annual income that is equal to or less than 185% of the federal poverty level, are entitled to a free breakfast or lunch. This bill would expand eligibility for a free meal by requiring public schools to serve breakfast and lunch, free of charge, to students from working class, middle-income families. The bill defines “middle-income family” as one with an annual household income amounting to not less than 186%, and not more than 199% of the federal poverty level. To avoid an unfunded mandate, the state would provide funding to reimburse the costs associated with each district’s provision of free meals to middle-income students who are federally ineligible for such meals under the National School Lunch Program or federal School Breakfast Program. It is estimated that roughly 26,000 students would become newly eligible for free meals under this proposal at a cost of approximately $19 million. Each school district, and the Department of Agriculture, would be required to publicize to parents and students the fact that free meals are available to middle-income students under these school meal programs, pursuant to the bill’s provisions. The NJSBA supports the expansion of free meals to middle-income students, particularly since the state will pick up the costs of doing so.

Earlier in the legislative process, the NJSBA expressed concerns regarding provisions in the bill that would have required all schools to offer breakfast and lunch to students, regardless of the percentage of students in the schools who are federally eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Under existing law, schools are only required to maintain school breakfast or lunch programs if the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals in a school exceeds 20% or 5%, respectively. The NJSBA successfully obtained amendments to maintain the 5% free or reduced-price meals threshold that triggers a school lunch requirement. In addition, amendments requested by NJSBA raised the breakfast threshold up to 10% free or reduced-price meals while also allowing districts to apply for a waiver from offering breakfast under certain conditions. Districts would be eligible for a waiver of the breakfast program requirements if the DOA determines that the provision of a breakfast program at a school will result in financial hardship for either the school or district.

If signed by the governor, the bill would go into effect Sept. 1, 2023. The deadline for establishing a new breakfast program for students in grades pre-K through sixth grade would be Sept. 1, 2024, and Sept. 1, 2025, for all other grade levels.

Eliminating edTPA S-896/A-677 would prohibit the State Board of Education from requiring the completion of a commissioner of education approved performance-based assessment (i.e., edTPA) as a requirement for teacher certification. It would remove this requirement for the obtainment of a certificate of eligibility with advanced standing, a certificate of eligibility, or standard certificate. Educator preparation programs would have the option to require their teacher candidates to complete a performance-based assessment approved by an educator preparation program.

Under current State Board of Education regulations, to be eligible for a CEAS (or a standard certificate for CE holders, if the candidate did not pass it prior to earning a CE), a candidate must pass a commissioner of education approved teacher performance-based assessment, which is currently the edTPA. The edTPA requires teacher candidates and provisional teachers to plan lessons, assess student work and submit a video recording of themselves teaching students. It has been cited by many in the New Jersey educational community as an unnecessary and redundant barrier to entering the teaching profession. Earlier this year, NJSBA was one of nine organizations that sent a letter to the Legislature and State Board of Education urging them to eliminate the edTPA as a requirement for securing a license.

The bill also provides that a person who earned a CEAS or a CE during the 2019-2020 through 2021-2022 school years, and who was unable to complete a commissioner of education approved performance-based assessment due to COVID-19 related disruptions, is exempt from the requirement to complete such an assessment to earn a standard certificate.

NJSBA strongly supports the bill and has argued that the proposed removal of the edTPA assessment from the requirements for teacher certification would not decrease teacher accountability because of the protocols in the TEACHNJ act and novice teacher supports available in local districts.

Publicizing School Meals A-2365/S-1928 is another measure from the Assembly Speaker’s food insecurity package. This legislation requires each school food authority that provides a food service to public school students to:

(1) Implement a public education campaign that is designed to educate parents and guardians about the various school meal program options that are available to students in New Jersey and the availability of free and reduced-price meals for students who satisfy federal or State-level eligibility criteria.

(2) Develop promotional materials for school meals programs and provide copies of the promotional materials to each school served by the school food authority for distribution to the parents and guardians of students enrolled at the school.

The information above would be disseminated in the two languages that are most commonly spoken in the homes of the students served by the school food authority. NJSBA supports the bill.

School Threat Assessment Team S-2765/A-4075 would require each school district and charter school to develop a policy for the establishment of a “threat assessment team” at each school. The purpose of the team would be to help ensure a safe and secure school environment by assisting staff in identifying students who pose a potential safety risk and preventing targeted violence in the district. The team would be required to include, to the extent possible, the following individuals, as well as additional employees the team deems appropriate:

  • A school employee with expertise in student counseling (e.g., school psychologist, school counselor, or school social worker).
  • A teacher.
  • A school principal or other senior school administrator.
  • A safe school resource officer or school employee who serves as a liaison to law enforcement.
  • The school safety specialist.

The bill enumerates several specific responsibilities of the team, which must be carried out in consultation with a district’s school safety specialist, including providing guidance for students and staff on recognizing threatening behavior in a student, designating members of the school community to whom threatening behavior must be reported, and developing and implementing policies regarding assessment and interventions for students identified as posing a safety threat. The bill also requires that team members participate in training provided by the school safety specialist, and specifies that, when assessing a student with an IEP or 504 plan, the team must consult with the student’s IEP team or 504 team. The NJDOE, in consultation with the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, would be required to develop guidelines for school districts regarding the establishment and training of these teams. The NJDOE would also be required to provide training to school safety specialists through the New Jersey School Safety Specialist Academy, who in turn will provide training to school staff. NJSBA supports the bill.

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