On Thursday, June 2, the Senate Education Committee met and approved various measures affecting New Jersey school districts.
Educator Recruitment The committee approved two bills designed to strengthen the recruitment of high-quality educators, particularly in areas of greatest need:
- Grow Your Own Teacher Loan Redemption Program: S-2350 would establish the Grow Your Own Teacher Loan Redemption Program. The program would provide for the redemption of a portion of eligible student loan expenses for each year of full-time employment as a certified teacher in the school district from which the individual graduated high school or a district in which the individual has resided for more than five years. Program participants would be required to teach in the district for at least five years and would qualify for redemption of up to $10,000 of principal and interest of eligible student loan expenses for each full year of employment (total redemption amount not to exceed $50,000 for five years of employment). To qualify, the district must be experiencing a shortage of teachers as determined by the New Jersey Department of Education. The Assembly Education Committee approved the bill’s Assembly counterpart, A-1840, last month and it sits with the Assembly Labor Committee. S-2350 now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.
- Educator Scholarship Program S-2661 would establish the New Jersey Educator Scholarship Program. The program would award 50 scholarships annually to college students who, within five years of graduating and completing an educator preparation program, accept full-time employment as a teacher in a New Jersey public school for at least three full school years. The three years of employment may be nonconsecutive and may be divided between multiple public school districts in New Jersey. The bill specifies that the NJDOE may establish additional eligibility requirements and minimum qualifications for participation in the program, including limiting scholarships to students pursuing degrees in content areas facing a shortage of teachers. If a scholarship recipient does not complete three full years of employment as a teacher in a New Jersey public school within five years of graduating and completing their educator preparation program, they must repay the amount of the scholarship, prorated against the duration of their employment.The committee amended the bill in several ways that distinguish it from its counterpart Assembly measure that passed the Assembly Education Committee in May. The Senate Education Committee amended the bill to:
- Limit scholarships to 18 credits. Additionally, whereas the Assembly bill would only grant scholarships to students in public institutions of higher education, the Senate bill would provide scholarships to eligible students in any New Jersey institution of higher education but would limit the amount of the scholarship to the average in-state tuition charged by four-year public institutions of higher education.
- Make clear that students may qualify for these scholarships if they accept full-time employment in charter or renaissance school projects.
The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.
NJSBA supports both bills.
Environmental Sustainability Plan S-434 would require each school district to amend their long-range facilities plan to include an environmental sustainability plan. Each environmental sustainability plan would have to:
- Provide for the efficient use of resources.
- Consider the impact of district facilities on the local and regional environment.
- Include details on how the district will allow ecosystems to function naturally to the greatest extent possible.
- Include initiatives to improve facility energy efficiency throughout the district.
- Include a commitment to the acquisition of sustainable materials.
- Include prioritization of contracts with vendors focused on environmental sustainability.
- Optimize district transportation to reduce carbon emissions.
- Include a plan to transition to electric vehicles for district busing.
Districts would have one full school year to amend their long-range facilities plan to include the environmental sustainability plan and would be required to annually publish a summary of the district’s progress toward meeting its sustainability goals.
While supportive of efforts to promote sustainability, NJSBA expressed concerns regarding the potential cost, burden and conflict with existing law posed by some of the provisions in the bill. NJSBA is seeking to remove certain provisions. It now heads to the Senate floor for further consideration.
Information Literacy Standards S-588 would require the State Board of Education to create a new content area in the New Jersey Student Learning Standards for “Information Literacy.” Information Literacy standards would describe knowledge and skills that enable students to locate, evaluate, and use information effectively, including digital, media, and technological literacy. The standards would address such themes as the difference between facts, point of view, and opinions; research methods; and accessing peer-reviewed print and digital library resources. In developing their Information Literacy standards, the State Board would be required to convene a committee of educators, engage experts and hold public hearings. The bill next heads to the Senate floor for further consideration. NJSBA supports the legislation.
Nonpublic STEM Teacher Program Changes S-2563 would modify the application process for the Teach STEM Classes in Nonpublic Schools program initially established by law in 2019. The program provides additional remuneration for public school teachers to teach STEM classes in nonpublic school settings during hours agreed upon by the teacher, their district, and the nonpublic school. Under current law, a nonpublic school’s application to participate in the program must include acknowledgment from both the nonpublic school and the school district of the teacher’s schedule for providing STEM instruction at the nonpublic school. The bill would modify that process to allow a nonpublic school to apply to the program unilaterally. Following the nonpublic school’s submission of the application, the school district would be provided 10 business days to submit a “valid objection” to the application, as defined in the bill. The bill also specifies how a participating teacher’s hourly wage would be determined. The bill may now be posted for a Senate floor vote. NJSBA is monitoring the legislation.
Hiring Teachers Pending Certification S-2594 would authorize boards of education to hire individuals awaiting issuance of their initial teaching certificates (certificate of eligibility or certificate of eligibility with advanced standing) from the NJDOE. The candidate would be required to submit a signed affidavit to the hiring district affirming that, to the candidate’s knowledge, he or she has met all applicable certification requirements. The candidate would have 90 days from the time they submit the signed affidavit to confirm that they have received their certification. If the candidate does not provide that confirmation, or if they have been found to have knowingly misrepresented information in their affidavit, the district must terminate their employment, except the district may continue to employ them in a position that does not require a teaching certificate. If, after submitting the affidavit in good faith the candidate learns that their certification application is incomplete, they will not be liable to reimburse the district for any salary or benefits. NJSBA supports the legislation.
New Department of Early Childhood S-2475 would create the Department of Early Childhood as a new principal department within the executive branch. It would transfer certain functions from existing executive branch departments to the new department, including:
- The Department of Education’s Division of Early Childhood Services.
- All Department of Education responsibilities related to students in grades preschool through grade 3, including teacher licensing, special education, and services related to Title I, bilingual, migrant and homeless education.
- Department of Human Services responsibilities related to children from pregnancy to age eight, including subsidized childcare programs and wraparound care.
- Department of Children and Families responsibilities related to children from pregnancy to age eight, including the Home Visitation Program, licensing of childcare centers and Family Success Centers.
- Department of Health responsibilities related to children from pregnancy to age eight, including early intervention under IDEA Part C, Improving Pregnancy Outcomes Program and New Jersey WIC Breastfeeding Services.
The bill would require the commissioners of Education, Human Services, Children and Families and Health to develop a schedule for the orderly transfer of functions to the new Department of Early Childhood. The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration. NJSBA is monitoring the legislation.
Access to Menstrual Products S-1221 would require school districts to ensure that students in each school serving any of the grades 6-12 have direct access to mensural products. The committee originally approved the bill last month, at which time it would have required provision of menstrual products in all bathrooms of schools serving those grades. Last Thursday, the committee amended the bill to such that menstrual products need only be provided in at least half of female school bathrooms, rather than all school bathrooms. The state would be required to pay the cost of providing these products. NJSBA supports the legislation.
Out-of-School Time Advisory Commission S-381 would establish a New Jersey Out-of-School Time Advisory Commission. The duty of the commission would be to assess the state’s out-of-school time programs by reviewing state policy governing these programs alongside existing research and best practices, and to make recommendations to increase accountability and quality of before-school, after-school and summer programs. The commission would be comprised of 21 members, including the commissioners of Education, Human Services, Children and Families, the secretary of Higher Education, and representatives from various stakeholder associations appointed by the governor, including the New Jersey School Boards Association. NJSBA supports the bill. It was referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.
International Student Exchange Programs S-1975 would require organizations that place international student exchange visitors in New Jersey public schools to register with the commissioner of education. The bill specifies criteria that such organizations must meet to be eligible for registration, such as compliance with U.S. Department of State regulations on exchange visitor programs or other bodies that oversee such programs. The bill would require the NJDOE to annually create and distribute to school districts a list of all registered organizations. NJSBA supports the bill.
To view the full text of any of the bills summarized above, visit the New Jersey Legislature’s website.