On Tuesday, June 22, the Senate and Assembly budget committees released a $46.4 billion budget for the next fiscal year. This legislation is expected to be passed by both houses of the Legislature on Thursday, June 24 and sent to the governor. Details were still being released at press time; however, NJSBA can confirm the following legislative changes to Gov. Murphy’s original budget proposal:

  • Extraordinary Special Education funding is being increased $125 million to $400 million — a 45% increase over last year’s amount.
  • $5 million is allocated for “Charter School Facility Improvements.”
  • $500,000 is allocated for the implementation of the Clayton Model Pilot Program for social-emotional learning. This program was created earlier this year via legislation.
  • There is $5 million for the Community Schools Pilot Program, created by legislation pending before the Legislature that presumably will be enacted with the budget bill.
  • Military-impacted districts will be prioritized in receiving Stabilization Aid, a $50 million grant program for districts experiencing reductions in state aid.
  • Districts that are losing state aid and participate in the school district regionalization studies per legislation also being enacted with the budget bill will recapture about 19% of their state aid loss. Further information on this program is available here.
  • Language is included requiring analyses and reports on usage and effectiveness of federal stimulus aid, including the American Rescue Plan (ARP), by both local school districts and the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE).
  • Over $26.5 million is allocated for the Department of Children and Families’ Office of School Linked Services, which administers the School Based Youth Services Program. This represents an increase of $5 million above the governor’s proposal and over $11 million more than current funding levels.

NJSBA’s original statement on the budget can be found here.

Direct state aid for public education remains unchanged from the governor’s proposal. Public schools will get $9.3 billion in direct aid next year, which includes the same increase of $578 million in K-12 education formula aid that the governor proposed in February.

Beyond the education issues, this budget:

  • Increases the Homestead and Property Tax Relief Programs.
  • Adds an additional $505 million for pension payments, bringing the total payments this year to a record-breaking $6.9 billion.
  • Creates a $3.7 billion Debt Defeasement Fund to allow the state to retire some debt early, refinance other debt at lower interest rates, and pay for some programs that would normally be funded through bonds.

This spring, the state has been calculating the budget with an abundance of revenues due to three factors: over $6 billion in federal aid through ARP; approximately $4 billion from emergency bonding in anticipation of tax revenues adversely impacted by COVID; and better-than-expected tax collections.

In addition to the state budget, the Legislature has acted on dozens of education-related bills over the past week. Summaries of the bills follow.

School District Regionalization A-5537/S-3488 establishes a grant program for conducting regionalization feasibility studies in this voluntary regionalization program and provides financial incentives for districts losing state aid because of declining enrollment. Specifically, districts facing Adjustment Aid cuts would have eight years — stretched out from the current four years — if the districts involved elect to implement a regionalization plan. Through 2028-2029, newly established K-12 regional districts would receive the greater of the state aid to which the newly established district would be entitled, or the sum of the aid of the consolidated districts including the eight-year Adjustment Aid phase-out. NJSBA supports the measure because it is voluntary.

The bill was advanced by the Assembly Appropriations Committee last week and received amendments intended to ensure any regionalization initiative does not exacerbate student segregation in the affected districts. The bill passed the full Assembly on Monday and now heads back to the Senate, which passed a previous version of the legislation.

New Special Education Unit  A-5701/S-2160 would create a special education unit within the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) and require an annual report. The special education unit would consist of administrative law judges having expertise in special education law. Under the bill, all contested cases concerning special education law referred to the OAL would be assigned to and adjudicated by the administrative law judges in the special education unit. NJSBA supports the bill.

The bill was advanced by Assembly committee last week and may now be posted for a floor vote. S-2160 has already passed the full Senate.

Chapter 44 Amendments A-5825 would make a series of adjustments to the 2020 law, commonly known as “Chapter 44,” that made significant changes to school employees’ health benefits coverage and payment obligations.

A-5825 includes the following provisions:

  • Requires boards of education and their unions to engage in negotiations to “substantially mitigate” any financial losses resulting from the implementation of Chapter 44. Under the bill, substantial mitigation may include changes to plan level offerings or contributions for the N.J. Educators Health Plan (NJEHP), or to both plan level offerings and contributions, which is not currently permissible under Chapter 44.
  • Directs any school district with an increase in net cost as a result of Chapter 44 to commence negotiations immediately. The bill explicitly provides that such negotiations may include salary increases, step guides, or other terms and conditions of employment;
  • Changes the effective date of the new Garden State Health Plan (GSHP), as established by Chapter 44, from July 1, 2021 to January 1, 2022;
  • Permits charter school and renaissance school employers to not implement Chapter 44 unless they have a collective negotiation agreement with any of their employees in effect on or after the law’s effective date;
  • Clarifies that the provisions concerning mandatory enrollment in the NJEHP do not apply to any employee who was hired before the effective date of Chapter 44 but did not enroll or was not eligible to enroll at that time;
  • Provides that for any period of time during which the school district, as an employer, does not have to pay a premium for a health benefits plan, an employee enrolled in such plan will not be required to make a contribution toward that premium (unless a collective bargaining agreement dictates otherwise);

A-5825 was approved by the full Assembly. The legislation’s Senate counterpart, S-3487, has already passed through committee and is expected to receive a floor vote this week before going to the governor.

School Audit Delay A-5834/S-3881 provides school districts with a two-month extension to file their required annual audits with the commissioner of education. Similar legislation was signed into law last December that applied to the 2019-2020 school year.

The bill has been passed by the full Senate and received Assembly committee approval.

School Nutrition  The following bills, which NJSBA supports, are part of a package aimed at addressing food insecurity. The first two would provide additional funds to school districts offering school meal programs.

  • A-5882/S-3943 requires the state to provide a 10-cent per meal supplement to the existing federal reimbursement to operators of federal summer food service programs.
  • A-5883/S-3944 requires the state to provide a 10-cent per breakfast supplement to the existing federal reimbursement to a school district with schools that participate in the federal school breakfast program by providing “breakfast after the bell.”
  • A-5884/S-3945 establishes the “Office of the Food Insecurity Advocate.”

The bills have been advanced by Senate and Assembly committees and may now be posted for floor votes in both houses.

‘Securing Our Children’s Future’ Grants The following bills would appropriate funding for various projects authorized pursuant to the “Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act.” The act, which received voter approval during the November 2018 general election, authorized the state to borrow up to $500 million to fund school district and county college capital projects.

NJSBA supports the following measures that will provide resources to school districts for school security projects, water infrastructure improvement and career and technical education expansion projects:

  • A-5886/S-3959 awards project grants for school security projects. The grants will, in part, be used to offset the cost of alarms and silent security systems. These grants will also be used to fund other infrastructure improvements prescribed in state law after districts certify compliance with “Alyssa’s Law,” which requires all public schools to be equipped with a panic alarm for use in a school security emergency. As that measure worked its way through the legislative process, the NJSBA successfully advocated for the Legislature to identify a funding source to offset school districts’ implementation costs. Such funding is now being made available to districts through this legislation.
  • A-5887/S-3960 will provide grants for water infrastructure projects in school districts. Eligible projects include: 1) improvements to drinking water outlets with a detectable level of lead or other contaminants; and 2) whole system remediation.
  • A-5889/S-3962 provides project grants for career and technical education expansion in county vocational school districts.

The bills passed the full Assembly on Monday and are expected to receive Senate approval in the coming days.

Impact Aid  S-3948/A-5896 establishes an additional category of school aid known as “military impact aid” and authorizes supplemental state aid to certain districts receiving certain federal impact aid. The Federal Impact Aid Program provides financial assistance to school districts that include within their boundaries parcels of land owned by the federal government or that are exempt from local taxation.  According to a statement from the bill’s sponsors, the legislation would “provide increased state aid for school districts whose property taxpayers have had to shoulder the burden caused by past cuts in federal payments to local districts for the education of the children of active-duty military personnel.”

NJSBA supports the measure, which was fast-tracked to the governor’s desk over the past week.

Student Mental HealthThe following measures are part of a package of bills, spearheaded by Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald and supported by the NJSBA, designed to enhance mental health services and supports for New Jersey students:

  • A-4433/S-2715 creates a grant program to encourage school districts to partner with institutions of higher education to train school-based mental health services providers. School districts that receive a grant under the program would use the funds to create and grow programs and partnerships that train students who are attending graduate school to become school-based mental health services providers. The bill has passed both houses of the Legislature.
  • A-4434/S-2716 establishes a Student Wellness Grant Program in the NJDOE. The purpose of the program will be to provide grants that support school districts in implementing school-based programs and practices that promote mental wellness, social and emotional learning, and student resilience. The bill is primed for a final vote in both houses.
  • A-4436/S-2718/S-555 establishes a “Student Mental Health Task Force” to: 1) examine issues related to the mental health of students; 2) study and survey the resources that are available to schools and parents to address student mental health needs; and 3) develop recommendations to ensure that students have access to mental health care programs and services to allow students to meet their educational goals. The NJSBA would have a representative on the task force. The bill passed the full Senate on Monday and now returns to the Assembly, which passed a previous version of the measure.

Teacher Loan Redemption Program  S-969/A-2687 would establish a loan redemption program in the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) to allow teachers to redeem a portion of their loan amounts for service as a teacher in a high-need field in a “low-performing school.” NJSBA supports the legislation. If the bill receives final approval in its current form, up to $1 million could be appropriated to the program. The bill has passed the full Senate and is primed for a final vote before the Assembly.

School Bus Safety  A-5817 amends current law to hold a board of education or school bus contractor responsible if they approve or assign an individual as a driver of a school bus without first complying with the provisions of law concerning the training, certification, and criminal history record checks of school bus drivers. The bill also increases the fines associated with such an action.

NJSBA is monitoring this bill, which passed the full Assembly. Its counterpart in the Senate, S-3852, has received committee approval.

Concussion Protocols  Under S-225/A-679, student athletes who have sustained a concussion would be prohibited from returning to competition until they have returned to regular school activities and are symptom-free. The return of the student athlete or cheerleader would be in accordance with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) graduated, six-step “Return to Play Progression” recommendations. School districts’ policies will also need to be updated anytime the CDC updates the Return to Play Progression.

NJSBA supported the bill, which has passed both houses and is now on the governor’s desk.

Concussion Evaluation  A-1599 requires a student who sustains a concussion to receive written clearance to return to school from a licensed health care professional whose scope of practice includes diagnosing and treating concussions. Additionally, students with concussions are barred from physical activity such as recess or physical education until evaluated and cleared by a licensed health care professional.

NJSBA supports the bill, which has passed the full Assembly and heads to the Senate.

Electric School Bus Pilot  A-1971 requires the N.J. Board of Public Utilities to develop and implement a three-year “Electric School Bus Pilot Program.” The purpose of the pilot program is to determine the operational reliability and cost effectiveness of replacing diesel-powered school buses with electric school buses for daily transportation of students.

NJSBA supports the measure, which passed the full Assembly and moves to the Senate.

Hiring Retired Teachers  S-3685 permits teachers and professional staff members who provide special services, who are retired from teachers’ pension system, to return to employment for up to two years without reenrollment in the system if employment commences during a state of emergency in the midst of a pandemic.

NJSBA supports the bill, which was approved by the full Senate and moves to the Assembly.

Addressing School Nurse Shortage  A-4544/S-3150 permits a school nurse who is retired from the teachers’ pensions system to return to employment in a district for up to two years without reenrollment in the pension system.

NJSBA supports the bill, which has passed both houses of the Legislature.

Computer Science  S-990 requires each school district to annually issue a report to the New Jersey Commissioner of Education with miscellaneous information related to computer science courses offered in the district.

The bill passed the full Senate and moves to Assembly committee.

Cannabis Revenue for Schools  S-3213 establishes the New Jersey Community Learning Program in the NJDOE to support the provision of comprehensive extended learning time programs in areas most impacted by the criminalization of cannabis (referred to as “impact zones”).  The costs of the program would be supported by a portion of the annual state revenues collected from the retail sale of recreational cannabis products.

‘Limited’ Teacher Certification Pilot  S-2826/A-4594 directs the (NJDOE) to establish a five-year pilot program for the issuance of limited certificates of eligibility with advanced standing (CEAS) and limited certificates of eligibility (CE). The “limited CEAS” and “limited CE” would be available to people who may not meet one of the requirements for a CEAS or CE and who are seeking employment in a school. Those who hold a limited CEAS or limited CE would only be eligible for employment at school districts approved by the NJDOE. Districts must demonstrate a sufficient capability to support new teachers while also showing that hiring a teacher with limited certification would fill a need.

The bill has passed both houses of the Legislature and awaits action by the governor.

Culturally Responsive Teaching  A-5312/S-2834 would mandate that all candidates for teaching certification complete a course on culturally responsive teaching. The bill defines “culturally responsive teaching” as a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning, using research-based teaching strategies that make meaningful connections between what students learn in school and their cultures, languages, and experiences. This requirement would go into effect with the 2021-2022 school year.

The bill received final legislative approval on Monday and was sent to the governor.

Youth Sports Task Force A-2957 establishes a task force to examine issues and make recommendations concerning youth sports, including abusive coaching, confrontational parents, and bullying of players.

NJSBA supports the bill, which was approved by the Assembly Women and Children Committee and may now be posted for a vote before the full Assembly.