Both the Senate and General Assembly convened at the State House on June 16 and held voting sessions. A summary of the substance and status of any education-related proposal is included below.

Bills Sent to the Governor

Final legislative approval has been given to the following bills, which now head to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk for his consideration:

Electric School Bus Program A-1282/S-759 would establish a $45 million, three-year grant program in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to help determine the operational reliability and cost effectiveness of replacing diesel-powered school buses with electric school buses.

Under the program, NJDEP would select at least six districts and bus contractors each year through a competitive grant process, with a focus on low-income communities, urban communities and communities that the NJDEP determines to have been burdened with environmental justice issues.  NJDEP may not award more than half of the grants to contractors. Grants would support the purchase, lease, or installation of electric school buses and electric school bus charging infrastructure.

The bill would require NJDEP to submit a report to the governor and the Legislature within six months following the conclusion of the program. The report would include, among other information, recommendations for how additional funding may be distributed to maximize the number of electric school buses operating in the state.

NJSBA supports the bill.

Purple Star Schools A-3694/S-1800 establishes a “Purple Star Schools Program” in the New Jersey Department of Education to recognize schools that emphasize the importance of assisting children of military families. Under the bill, the commissioner of education will annually recognize as Purple Star Schools those schools that provide for, or have made significant progress to respond to, the educational and social-emotional challenges military-connected students encounter during the transition to a new school when the student’s parent or guardian is an active-duty member of the United States Armed Forces and is relocated due to the member’s continued military service. This bill establishes a working group to develop criteria to be used in the designation of schools as Purple Star Schools. NJSBA supports the bill.

Pre-Apprenticeship Programs S-525/A-280 enhances and expands the state’s current initiatives under the “Youth Transitions to Work Partnership Act,” to establish pre-apprenticeship programs to assist young people in entering apprenticeship programs with links to post-secondary education and credentials. NJSBA supports the bill.

Military Impact Aid S-1929/A-3668 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 supports the bill.

Passed the Senate, Headed to the Assembly

The following bills passed the full Senate and now await consideration in the General Assembly:

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 was approved by the Senate Education Committee on June 2, 2022. Its Assembly counterpart, A-3834, was approved by the Assembly Higher Education Committee June 13, 2022.  Both bills now sit in the Assembly Education Committee awaiting further consideration. NJSBA is monitoring the legislation.

Environmental Sustainability Plan S-434 would require each school district to amend its 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. The Senate Education Committee approved the bill June 2, 2022; it now heads to the Assembly Education Committee 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.

Passed the Assembly, Headed to the Senate

Expanded Testing for School Bus Drivers A-3564 would authorize school districts to administer certain motor vehicle services at school facilities to assist individuals with becoming school bus drivers. This would include administration of any applicable knowledge test (but not a road test), provision of the CDL manual, identification verification, processing of the permit fee, and application for the passenger endorsement, school bus endorsement, and any other required endorsement. NJSBA supports the bill.

Non-CDL Drivers for Small School Buses A-3565 would permit the holder of a valid noncommercial driver’s license, upon completing certain required training, to operate a “Type S” school bus to transport students to and from school and school-related activities. A “Type S” school bus is a motor vehicle that has a gross vehicle weight rating of 3,000 pounds or more that was designed by the manufacturer with a maximum seating capacity of nine or fewer passengers, excluding the driver. These drivers would not be required to obtain a CDL, passenger endorsement, or school bus endorsement. The bill applies to both buses operated by a board of education as well as those operated by contracted transportation providers.

The bill would require boards and school bus contractors to provide certain training to drivers of Type S buses who do not have a school bus endorsement, including the safety education program that districts and contractors must administer to all bus drivers and bus aides under current law. The bill would also subject Type S school bus drivers to various provisions of law applicable to school bus drivers, such as criminal history record check requirements and various offenses that disqualify someone from serving as a bus driver.

Other provisions of law that would be amended to include Type S bus drivers include:

  • Consequences of knowingly operating a bus transporting students while the driver’s driving privileges have been suspended or revoked.
  • Consequences of leaving a pupil on the bus at the end of the driver’s route.
  • Consequences of certain motor vehicle violations.

NJSBA recognizes that COVID-19 has exacerbated longstanding challenges posed to district operations by nationwide school bus driver shortages. NJSBA supports this legislation for its potential to relieve those challenges while ensuring proper training and safeguards to maintain student safety. The bill’s upper house counterpart, S-1682, has cleared committee and awaits a Senate floor vote.

Mental Health Service Referrals A-4086 would permit a student assistance coordinator, school counselor, school psychologist or other mental health professional working in a school district to refer a student to a private individual licensed to provide professional counseling for mental health assessments and services.  Parental notification and consent would be required in the case of any student who is not legally permitted to consent on his or her own to such assessments and services. NJSBA supports the bill. It now heads to the Senate Education Committee for further consideration.

Senate Education Committee

The committee met Monday, June 20, for what will likely be its final meeting before the Legislature recesses for the summer. The following measures received committee approval:

Graduation Assessments S-50 amends the provisions of current law concerning the graduation proficiency test to provide for the New Jersey Department of Education to develop or designate a statewide assessment or assessments in reading, writing and computational skills.  The bill also eliminates the requirement that the assessment be administered specifically in the 11th grade. Additionally, for the graduating class of 2023, the bill mandates that the New Jersey Graduation Proficiency Assessment administered in March 2022 to 11th graders be considered a “field test,” i.e., that the results of the NJGPA would not be used as a prerequisite for graduation. The bill also specifies that, for the class of 2023, the results of substitute competency tests (e.g. SAT, ACT and other substitute competency assessments approved by the New Jersey Department of Education) or “any other demonstration of proficiency through techniques and instruments other than a standardized test” (i.e., the portfolio appeals process) would not be used as a prerequisite for graduation. The bill contains a grandfather provision for students in the graduating classes of 2024 and 2025, providing that these students will be deemed to have met graduation assessment requirements if they satisfy the State Board of Education regulations that were in place as of Oct. 4, 2021, concerning graduation assessment requirements for the classes of 2023, 2024, and 2025.

The bill provides that, for the classes of 2026 and thereafter, the graduation proficiency assessment or assessments would be developed or designated by the commissioner of education, with the approval of the State Board of Education.  The process for the development or designation by the commissioner of the graduation proficiency assessment or assessments would begin no later than 60 days following the date of enactment of the bill. The bill codifies the current State Board regulations for the graduation assessment requirements for the classes of 2023-2025 requiring a student to sit for the assessment(s) before accessing alternative pathways demonstrating graduation proficiency. NJSBA supports the bill, which now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

NJGPA as Field Test for Class of 2023 S-2349/A-3196 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. The bill, which has already passed the full Assembly, may now be posted for a Senate floor vote. NJSBA supports the bill.

Identifying Military Students S-87 requires the Department of Education to maintain an indicator for military-connected students in its student-level database.  The bill also requires the commissioner of education to annually report statistics on the academic engagement and outcomes of these students, including attendance rates, performance on the state assessments, high school graduation rates, and post-secondary plans. The bill also allows a parent or guardian to opt their child out of being identified as a military-connected student by the school district.  If a parent or guardian opts their child out of being identified as a military-connected student by the school district, the amendments clarify that the student’s classroom teacher will not be notified upon enrollment. The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

Therapy Dogs S-2002 establishes a three-year pilot program to assess the academic and health benefits associated with the use of therapy dogs in public elementary school wellness programs.  A therapy dog is a dog that has been trained, evaluated and registered with a handler to provide animal assisted therapy and other animal assisted activities within a school. The commissioner will provide pilot districts with guidance regarding the use of therapy dogs in schools including: examples of activities that students may engage in with a therapy dog; recommended training requirements for therapy dog handlers; recommended measures to evaluate the health and appropriate behavior of therapy dogs; and insurance issues relevant to having therapy dogs on school district property. The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration. NJSBA supports the bill.

Spring Break Recommendations S-2673 requires the commissioner of education to annually recommend – but not require – the dates on which a school district would be permitted to close its schools for a spring break.  In order to assist school districts in the development of their school calendars, the commissioner is required to inform the school districts of the dates for spring break no later than June 30th of the prior school year.  Approved by the committee, the bill next goes to the full Senate for consideration. NJSBA is monitoring the bill.

Remote Counseling Sessions S-2692 requires school districts, charter schools and renaissance school projects that employ a school psychologist and offer in-person school psychology services to students in grades kindergarten through 12 to allow students to attend counseling sessions or meetings of any kind through virtual or remote means. Under the bill, a student will not be eligible to participate in remote psychology sessions if the school psychologist determines that in-person counseling is in the best interest of the student. Approved by the committee, the bill next goes to the full Senate for consideration. NJSBA is monitoring the bill.

School Threat Assessment Team S-2765 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. NJSBA supports the bill, which now heads to the Senate floor for further consideration. Its Assembly counterpart, A-4075, was approved by the Assembly Education Committee earlier this month.

School Bus Safety S-1999 includes several requirements designed to enhance safety on school buses. The bill would:

  • Make it a crime of the fourth degree to purposely alter, destroy, conceal or disable a monitoring device, including a camera, that is installed in a school bus. A fourth-degree crime is punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000 or both.
  • Clarify that any school bus driver or school bus aide in the public district and charter school systems, and any school that receives public funds for school buses are subject to criminal history background check requirements. The bill would also require boards to determine that bus drivers and bus aides remain eligible for employment in public schools (i.e. that no criminal history record information exists that would disqualify the individual from employment) every four years. The bill specifies that the background check to which bus drivers must submit as part of renewal of their school bus driver’s license would satisfy this requirement.
  • Require that the results of the criminal history background check be sent to the county superintendent of the county in which a bus driver or school bus aide would be employed.
  • Require that an individual subject to criminal history background check requirements must be temporarily suspended from employment or service upon being charged with a disqualifying offense.
  • Require a school district that has cameras on its school buses to appoint an employee to randomly view the recorded images during each school year.

While NJSBA appreciates the importance of school bus safety, certain provisions cause some concern. NJSBA expressed that requiring ongoing background checks for school bus aides is duplicative of the requirements already in place that the New Jersey Department of Education notify employers when an employee has been charged with a disqualifying offense. As of June 20, the bill does not have an Assembly counterpart. The bill is now primed for a Senate floor vote.

School Mapping Data S-2426 would amend existing law that requires districts to share “blueprints and maps” with local law enforcement to instead require sharing of the following mapping data:

  • Aerial images of schools.
  • Floor plans, including room and suite numbers.
  • Building access points.
  • Locations of hazardous materials and utility shutoffs.
  • Any other relevant location information.

The bill would require that the above information shared by districts be compatible with all platforms and applications used by law enforcement, be verified for accuracy through an annual walkthrough of school buildings and school grounds and be provided in a printable format. While supportive of the concept, NJSBA is seeking a state funding mechanism to support districts’ implementation of these requirements. The now heads to the Senate floor. Its Assembly counterpart, A-3825, was approved by the Assembly Education Committee and is sitting in the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.

Lyme Disease Prevention Instruction S-2463 would require school districts to incorporate guidelines developed by the New Jersey Department of Education regarding instruction in prevention of Lyme Disease and other tick-borne diseases into their Comprehensive Health and Physical Education curricula in grades K-12. The bill would also require districts to develop and implement policies for the discovery and removal of ticks on students, including having the school nurse or school physician:

  • Properly store the tick for no more than seven days.
  • Label the tick with the date of removal and name of the student.
  • Provide notice to the student’s parent or guardian that the tick was removed. The statement must include a list of facilities in the state that perform tick testing, and it must advise the parent/guardian to promptly seek medical treatment if the student presents certain symptoms within 30 days.

The Department of Health would be required to publish guidelines and regulations to support districts in developing and implementing these policies. The NJSBA expressed concerns that requiring districts to implement curriculum “guidelines” published by the NJDOE would impede on boards’ authority to develop curriculum locally, and noted the potential burden of the policy for tick discovery and removal required by the bill. It now heads to the Senate floor for further consideration.

Multiple Providers of 403(b) Plans S-2411 would require a board of education of a school district with a student enrollment of at least 1,000 students that offers a 403(b) plan to its employees to select a minimum of three financial institutions or pension management organizations to provide services to the 403(b) plan.  If fewer than three such institutions organizations are available, then the board must select the number that are available to meet the requirements of the bill. NJSBA took no position on the bill, which is not expected to have any significant operational or financial impact on school districts to which it will apply. The bill may now be posted for a Senate floor vote.

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