In the last week, the Assembly Education, Senate Budget and Appropriations, and Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committees have advanced various pre-K-12 education bills, including bills to stabilize the measure of property wealth used in the formula for a district’s local share under the School Funding Reform Act, require students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid as a high school graduation requirement, and various bills designed to address the teacher shortage.

Assembly Education Committee   

Stabilizing SFRA Property Wealth Calculations  A-5577 would modify the formula for a district’s local share in the SFRA to replace the current prebudget year equalized valuation with a five-year average of equalized valuation. The New Jersey School Boards Association testified, acknowledging the potential benefit of this measure for districts with rapidly increasing property values, particularly districts constrained by the 2% tax levy growth cap, as well as the potential disadvantages that the measure could pose for districts with decreasing property values. The bill next heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

FAFSA Graduation Requirement A-1181 would require students in the classes of 2024, 2025 and 2026 to complete and submit a financial aid application as a high school graduation requirement. Students could be waived from the requirement if their parent or guardian or the school counselor submits a waiver to the school district. The NJSBA expressed concerns on the bill, chief among them that the bill would impose a nonacademic graduation requirement that could unfairly deny students who have satisfied all state and local academic graduation requirements a high school diploma. The bill was approved by the Assembly Higher Education Committee last spring, and may now be posted for a floor vote.

Exempting Certain Regional School Districts from State Aid Cuts A-5575 would exempt from state aid reductions under SFRA as amended by S-2 districts that meet the following conditions:

  • Regional school district consisting of at least five constituent school districts.
  • The district has mitigated the cost of regionalization, as determined by the New Jersey Department of Education.
  • The district’s per-pupil administrative costs are 15% less than the statewide average for regional school districts.
  • The district’s general fund tax levy has been increased by the maximum amount permitted by law in each of the last five school years.

The bill further provides that if a district is exempt from a state aid reduction per these criteria, the district must provide courtesy busing if the district was providing courtesy busing in the previous school year. In a press release announcing the legislation, Senators Vin Gopal and Declan O’Scanlon and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin framed the bill as one to “encourage smaller school districts who are facing cuts due to declining enrollment to go towards regionalization and adding shared services,” citing Freehold Regional, which would be directly impacted by the legislation, as a “model school district.” The NJSBA testified, urging the Legislature to take a more holistic approach toward amending the SFRA moving forward, rather than doing it through piecemeal legislation. The Association used this opportunity to reiterate its support for pending legislation (S-354), already passed by the full Senate, that would establish a School Funding Formula Evaluation Task Force. It also urged the Legislature to give strong consideration to empowering school districts to address state aid reductions through tax levy growth cap flexibility. The bill next heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

Access to Menstrual Products A-1349/S-1221 would require school districts to ensure that students in each school serving any of the grades 6-12 have direct access to menstrual products in at least half of female and gender-neutral school bathrooms (if applicable) free of charge. The state would be required to pay the cost of providing these products. The NJDOE, in conjunction with the New Jersey Department of Health, would be required to periodically review and assess whether the provision of free menstrual products meets the needs of menstruating students, and, if necessary, make recommendations regarding the expansion of access to menstrual products to students below grade six. The full Senate has already approved the legislation, which now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for further consideration. NJSBA supports the bill.

State Board Approval of New Standardized Assessments A-4727 would require the Commissioner of Education to receive approval from the State Board of Education for administration of any new standardized assessment that is not otherwise required by state or federal law. The bill appears to be in response to the “Start Strong” assessment, which districts were required to administer in the fall of 2021 and 2022. It would not apply to standardized assessment requirements that are in place prior to the bill being  signed. The NJSBA is monitoring the bill, which next heads to the full Assembly for further consideration.

Providing School Meal Info to Parents A-5164/S-530 would revise the type of information that must be sent to parents or guardians at the beginning of the school year regarding the district’s school meal programs.

Under legislation signed in September (the “Working Class Families Anti-Hunger Act” P.L.2022, c.104), school districts are required to provide, in paper or electronic format, parents with a school meals application form. S-530 would amend that requirement to specify that the application must be provided as a hard copy. The bill would also add that districts must include a notice that an application to apply for school meal programs may be submitted at any time during the school year and is required to be submitted annually.

In addition to modifying the school meal information that must be provided to parents, the bill would establish a new requirement that school districts ensure parents either apply for school meal programs or submit a signed card provided by the district indicating that they have received the application and are not interested in participating. If a district does not receive an application or signed card, the district would be required to make at least one attempt to contact the student’s parent and request that the application or card be submitted. The NJSBA supported the legislation, which passed the Senate in February and next heads to the full Assembly for further consideration.

Nonpublic School Transportation Consortium Program A-5412 would require the NJDOE to establish a nonpublic school transportation consortium program. Under the program, nonpublic schools in one or more counties would be authorized to form a consortium to assume responsibilities from participating school districts to provide transportation to and from the nonpublic schools or aid-in-lieu. If a school district chooses to participate in the voluntary program, the district would disburse to the consortium an amount equal to the aid-in-lieu of transportation amount for each nonpublic school student for whom the school district would otherwise be required to provide transportation or aid-in-lieu. The bill includes language specifying that payments a participating district makes to the consortium would not alter the reimbursement for nonpublic transportation costs that school districts currently receive under existing law. The consortium would also be:

  • Authorized to provide courtesy busing at the parents’ or guardians’ expense.
  • Required to refund participating school districts at the end of the school year for students who did not receive transportation for the entire school year and any other unexpended funds.
  • Required to assure the commissioner that it is capable of complying with its student transportation responsibilities.
  • Required to enter into a contract with an independent entity to audit the program.

Under the bill, the NJDOE would establish a five-member oversight committee to oversee operations of each consortium, which would include a member representing a participating nonpublic school and a member representing a participating school district. The NJSBA supports the bill due to its voluntary nature. Its Senate counterpart, S-3850, was approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on June 12.

NJDOE Office of Community Schools A-5576 would establish an Office of Community Schools in the NJDOE. The responsibilities of the office would include:

  • Providing training and support for public schools interested in adopting community school strategies.
  • Increasing the knowledge and skills of school staff and community partners to aid in the implementation, management and sustainability of community schools.
  • Providing grants to public schools for the purposes of adopting community school strategies.
  • Providing a list of school districts, renaissance schools and charter schools that have established community schools, to be published on the department’s website.

The bill would appropriate $2 million in state funds and provide that $8 million “shall, to the extent permitted by federal law, be appropriated from” the American Rescue Plan State Fiscal Recovery Fund to implement the bill. NJSBA supports the bill, which next heads to the full Assembly for further consideration.

Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee

On June 12, the committee approved:

April Election Second Question Certification Deadline A-5175/S-3593 would make changes to various general election deadlines. A previous version of the bill would have moved up the deadline for boards of education that hold an election in April to certify second questions with the county clerk. Specifically, the bill would have changed that deadline from 18 days before the April election to 60 days before the election.

Recognizing the conflict this change would pose with school districts’ budget timelines – specifically that it would essentially deprive April election districts of the ability to put up second questions by establishing a certification deadline before school districts receive their state aid notices – the NJSBA, in consultation with the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials, successfully advocated for amendments to remove this provision from the bill. The amended version of the bill would also eliminate the December special election date, and move the September special election date up from the last Tuesday to the third Tuesday.  A-5175 passed the full Assembly in May, and the bills may now be posted for a Senate floor vote. If passed, it must return to the Assembly for concurrence with Senate amendments before going to the governor.

Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee

On June 12, the committee approved:

Expanding Medicaid-Funded Health Services S-2416 would expand the state’s Medicaid-funded school-based health services by requiring reimbursement to districts for covered behavioral health services, delivered in-person or via telehealth, to Medicaid students. Specifically, the bill would make reimbursable covered services:

  • Regardless of whether the student has an IEP, 504 Plan, Individualized Health Care Plan, or Individualized Family Service Plan.
  • Regardless of whether the service is provided at no charge to the student.
  • That are provided by a licensed medical practitioner approved as a Medicaid provider or a local educational agency approved as a Medicaid provider.

To effectuate this expanded program, the bill would require the New Jersey Department of Human Services to apply for any state plan for Medicaid amendments or waivers as are necessary. The bill would go into effect six months following federal approval.

The bill would also focus on the following:

  • Reinvestment of reimbursement payments: Require districts to utilize Medicaid reimbursement payments received under the bill to provide behavioral health services for students and families.
  • Administrative support for districts: Require the New Jersey Department of Human Services, Department of the Treasury and the NJDOE to assist districts in submitting Medicaid claims, and ensure that the submission, reimbursement and administrative systems overlap as much as possible with procedures for the Special Education Medicaid Initiative, or SEMI. This system for additional school-based Medicaid claims would include the requirement that a district obtain parental or guardian consent prior to billing Medicaid for any service provided under the bill. Districts would be authorized to enter into an agreement with other districts to contract with a third-party entity to process and submit Medicaid claims for covered behavior health services provided under the bill.
  • Ensure Medicaid remains the payer of last resort: Require districts to take all reasonable measures to pursue claims for reimbursement against legally liable third parties in accordance with federal law.

The NJSBA supports the bill, which next heads to the full Senate for further consideration. Its Assembly counterpart, A-3334, passed the Assembly Education Committee in March and awaits further consideration by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Sustainable New Jersey Fund S-2857 would establish the “Sustainable New Jersey Fund” in the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. Under the bill, the DCA would be required to annually distribute money in the fund to a public institution of higher education that has an existing contractual relationship with a qualified nonprofit organization that offers certifications and grants to municipalities and public schools across New Jersey in support of efforts to realize environmental, economic and social sustainability. The public institution of higher education would then be required to distribute the funds to the nonprofit to support the provision of such certifications and grants. NJSBA supports the bill, which next heads to the full Senate for further consideration. Its Assembly counterpart, A-4167, passed the Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee last week.

Emergency Teacher Certification S-3814 would establish an emergency instructional certificate in special education, bilingual/bicultural education, and other “high-need fields” designated by the NJDOE. To be eligible for an emergency instructional certificate, an individual must:

  • Be enrolled in an educator preparation program at a regionally accredited four-year institution of higher education in the state.
  • Have a bachelor’s degree.
  • Have achieved a passing score on any applicable subject matter knowledge exams.

A chief school administrator would be required to apply to the NJDOE on behalf of an emergency instructional certification candidate. In the application, the CSA would have to demonstrate an “inability to locate a suitable certified candidate due to unforeseen shortages or other extenuating circumstances” and the NJDOE may approve the application “if it is determined that there are no suitable certified candidates to fill the position.” The bill would limit a district to employing no more than 20% of its teaching staff with emergency instructional certification holders. The emergency instructional certification would only be valid for employment in the school district requesting it and would have to be renewed annually at the request of the CSA and with approval of the ECS, pending the certificate-holder’s making progress toward the requirements of a CE, CEAS, or Standard certification. An individual may only be employed by the school district under the emergency certificate for up to three years. The NJSBA supports the bill, which next heads to the full Senate for further consideration.

Ensuring Transfer of County College Credits to Meet EPP Requirements: S-3890, part of Assembly Education Committee chair Pamela Lampitt’s legislative package to address the teacher shortage, would prohibit educator preparation programs from restricting the number of county college professional education credits that may be used to meet the requirements of an educator preparation program, except as may be required by the EPP’s accrediting organization. The bill would also prohibit the NJDOE from restricting the number of county college credits in professional education that can be accepted toward meeting teacher certification requirements, provided that the credits are accepted by an EPP (in April 2023, the New Jersey State Board of Education adopted amendments to its certification regulations that removed the six-credit limit on courses in professional education completed on the two-year college level). The bill next heads to the full Senate for further consideration. Its Assembly counterpart, A-5417, passed the Assembly Education Committee in May and awaits further consideration in the Assembly Higher Education Committee.

Joint Committee on the Public Schools

On June 9, the Joint Committee on the Public Schools met to discuss high school students completing the financial aid application through the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. Jonathan Pushman, the NJSBA’s director of governmental relations,  testified alongside several other K-12 education stakeholders (see the screenshot at left) outlining concerns with establishing completion of financial aid applications as a high school graduation requirement (see A-1181 above).

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