Both the General Assembly and the Senate held voting sessions on Thursday, May 26. While the recently enacted Atlantic City reform measures garnered the most attention, the Legislature also advanced a few bills of particular significance to New Jersey’s school districts.

Requires Districts to Release PARCC Data  A-2567 requires school districts and the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) to post information on their websites regarding student participation in the PARCC assessments. Under the bill, a school district must provide on its website, and make publicly available upon request, information regarding the number of students in each grade level who participated in the administration of a PARCC assessment and the number of students who did not participate in the assessment. The information will include the subject area of the PARCC assessment, the grade levels covered by the assessment, and the dates on which the assessment was administered. A school district must provide the required information no later than ten days after the district completes its administration of any PARCC assessment to any grade level. During deliberations before the Assembly Education Committee earlier this year, NJSBA expressed a belief that school districts should not be required to post this information; that task should be left to the NJDOE for purposes of consistent reporting. The bill was approved by a vote of 71-1-2. Its Senate counterpart, S-633, has been referred to the Senate Education Committee, but has yet to receive a hearing.

School District Food Donations  A-3056, which was approved by a vote of 72-0-8, would require the New Jersey Department of Agriculture to establish voluntary guidelines to encourage and facilitate the ability of school districts and institutions of higher education to donate excess, unused, edible food to local voluntary food assistance programs. These guidelines would include: (1) information on food waste, and the need of food assistance programs for food; (2) recommendations on how schools may incorporate this information into their curricula, and create programs and activities for the donation of food; (3) information on the types of food schools may donate; (4) a cost-effective, safe, and sanitary means for donation of food; and (5) a means by which schools and local voluntary food assistance programs may connect with each other. The bill would require the agriculture department to consult with the state health department, the NJDOE and the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education when establishing the guidelines, with the latter two agencies publishing the guidelines on their respective websites. The bill would also extend legal immunity to school districts that donate food, which appears to be fit for human consumption at the time it is donated, to a nonprofit organization. Institutions of higher education already receive such immunity under current law. NJSBA supports the bill as it encourages, rather than mandates, school district donations of excess food.

TPAF Retirees Employed as Coaches A-1878 increases the amount of permitted annual compensation paid to a Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund (TPAF) retiree re-employed as athletic coach by former school district within 180 days of retirement. Legislation signed into law in the 2014-2015 session created an exception to current regulations to allow a retired member of the TPAF to become employed again with the former employer in a position as a coach of an athletics activity if the employment begins after the retirement allowance becomes due and payable; the retired member had attained service retirement age as of the date of retirement, which for most current members of the TPAF is age 60; and the compensation for the employment is less than $10,000 per year. This bill increases the amount of annual compensation to less than $15,000 for TPAF retirees who are reemployed under this exception. NJSBA believes retirees under a New Jersey pension program should be permitted to be employed by a New Jersey public employer up to the maximum earnings allowed under Social Security (currently $15,720), without penalty. The Association, therefore, supports this proposal, which passed the General Assembly by a vote of 65-5-9.

Bill Would Prohibit Smokeless Tobacco in Schools The state Senate also held a voting session and approved S-293, which prohibits the use of smokeless tobacco in all public schools. The bill requires every board of education to ensure the placement, in every public entrance to a public school building, of a sign indicating that the use of smokeless tobacco is prohibited in the school. The penalties for using smokeless tobacco would be a fine of not less than $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense, and $1,000 for each subsequent offense. However, these fines would not be applicable to a student who violates the bill’s provisions. Rather, he or she will be prohibited by the board of education from participation in all extracurricular activities, including interscholastic athletics, and be subject to the revocation of any student parking permit that the student may possess. A board of education is required to adopt a policy that establishes the length of the suspension or revocation imposed on a student for an initial or subsequent violation.

In the event that the local board of health receives a written complaint, or has reason to suspect, that a public school is in violation of the bill, then the board of health will provide written notification to the board of education and order that appropriate action be taken. Failure to comply with the order will subject the board to a fine of not less than $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense, and $1,000 for each subsequent offense. NJSBA supports the legislation.