In addition to advancing the FY2018 state appropriations act and other budget-related measures, the Legislature has moved on several other pieces of legislation that would impact local boards of education and New Jersey’s public schools and students. The following provides a rundown of NJSBA-tracked bills that moved forward in the last week.
Bills on Governor’s Desk
The following measures have now passed both houses of the Legislature and were sent to the governor for his consideration:
Sending District Voting Rights S-3191/A-3370 broadens the voting rights of representatives of sending school districts who are eligible for membership on a receiving district board of education. The current statute permits the representatives to vote on tuition which the receiving district will charge the sending district, along with certain bill lists or contracts; new capital construction to be used by sending district pupils; the appointment, transfer or removal of certain teaching staff members and professional administrative staff; and the addition or deletion of curricular and extracurricular programs involving pupils of the sending district. This bill provides that the representative would also vote on any matter directly involving sending district pupils or programs and services utilized by them; approval of the annual receiving district budget; any collectively-negotiated agreement involving employees who provide services used by sending district pupils; any individual employee contracts not covered by a collectively-negotiated agreement, if those employees provide or oversee programs or services utilized by sending district pupils; and any matter concerning governance of the receiving board, including, but not limited to, the selection of board president and vice-president, approval of board bylaws, and the employment of professionals or consultants such as attorneys, architects, engineers, or others who provide services to the receiving district board of education.
The NJSBA-initiated bill is based on policy adopted at the May 2014 Delegate Assembly which states: “The statutory language of N.J.S.A. 18A:38-8.1 should be revised to expand the voting rights of sending district representatives on matters before the receiving district board of education to include the ability to vote on all matters that impact the students of the sending district in the receiving district; all district-wide issues, all board governance issues and all matters related to the grade levels to which the sending district sends its students.”
School Safety Specialists A-3347/S-2242 establishes the “New Jersey School Safety Specialist Academy” within the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE). The purpose of the academy will be to serve as a repository for best practices, training standards, and compliance oversight in matters regarding school safety and security. Under the bill, the academy will develop and implement a School Safety Specialist Certification Program. Each school superintendent will be required to designate a school administrator as a school safety specialist who must complete the certification program. The school safety specialist will be responsible for the supervision and oversight of all school safety and security personnel, policies, and procedures in the school district; ensure that these policies and procedures are in compliance with state law and regulations; and provide the necessary training and resources to school district staff in matters relating to school safety and security. The school safety specialist will also serve as the school district liaison with local law enforcement and other agencies and organizations in matters of school safety and security.
The NJSBA supports the legislation, which would codify one of the recommendations of the New Jersey School Security Task Force, which released its final report in July 2015. Earlier in the legislative process, the NJSBA successfully obtained amendments to the bill clarifying that the certification program and any related training and professional development will be provided free of charge to designated school safety specialists.
Educating Student-Athletes on Opioid Abuse A-3944/S-2402 requires the N.J. Commissioner of Education to develop an educational fact sheet that provides information concerning the use and misuse of opioid drugs in the event that a student-athlete or cheerleader is prescribed an opioid for a sports-related injury. The bill requires school districts and nonpublic schools to distribute the fact sheet annually to the parents or guardians of student-athletes and cheerleaders, and to obtain a signed acknowledgement of its receipt. NJSBA supports the bill.
Affirming Clean Criminal History on Nomination Petitions A-4206/S-2676 would require a school board candidate to file with his nominating petition a specific affirmation that he has not been convicted of any of the crimes that disqualify an individual from membership on a board of education or a charter school board of trustees. Under current law, a person is disqualified from membership on a board of education or a charter school board of trustees if the person has been convicted of certain crimes or offenses. A member must, within 30 days of election or appointment to the board, undergo a criminal background check for the purpose of ensuring that the member is not disqualified. In addition, the law requires a member of a board of education, before entering into the duties of the office, to take an oath that must include a specific declaration that the member is not disqualified from holding office due to a conviction of one of the disqualifying crimes or offenses. A member who falsely swears or affirms that he is not disqualified due to a conviction is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree. NJSBA supports the legislation.
School Security Surveillance S-742/A-1205 requires that if a school building is equipped with video surveillance equipment that is capable of wirelessly streaming live video to a remote location, the board of education must enter into a memorandum of understanding with local law enforcement authorities giving the authorities the ability to activate the equipment and view live-streaming videos. The impact of the legislation is limited to a small number of districts statewide. NJSBA supports this bill.
Joint Bracketing in School Elections S-1297/A-3751 would permit two or more candidates for the office of member of a board of education who seek election at the annual school election held in either April or November of each year to circulate a nominating petition jointly and to be bracketed together for the same term. The bill also permits the inclusion of a short, non-political designation on the petition and the ballot of the principles that the candidate or candidates represent. The Legislature approved similar legislation (A-4386/S-3042) in the 2014-2015 legislative session, but the governor conditionally vetoed that measure. Instead, the governor recommended that the New Jersey Secretary of State undertake a review of the impact of allowing the bracketing of candidates together and designations of candidates’ principles on school election petitions and ballots, and to report the findings and recommendations to him. The governor’s conditional veto stated his belief that “transforming school election ballots by grouping candidates’ names and campaign slogans compels us to first assess the risk that such a proposal would politicize our nonpartisan school elections.” The Legislature did concur with the governor’s recommendations. However, no such study has been published to date. The bill now goes to the Assembly for further consideration.
The following education-related measures passed the full Senate at its most recent voting sessions and head to the Assembly:
Promoting Dual Language Immersion S-2704 establishes a grant program for school districts and charter schools to develop dual language immersion programs. The bill directs the N.J. Commissioner of Education to establish a dual language immersion program. Under the program, the commissioner will provide grants to school districts and charter schools to develop dual language immersion programs in Chinese, Spanish, French, or any other language approved by the commissioner. A school district or charter school may be eligible to receive funds if it uses an instructional model that provides at least 50 percent of its instruction in English and 50 percent of its instruction in the other language. The program would have to begin in kindergarten or grade one and would need to meet any other requirements established by the commissioner. The bill establishes the Dual Language Immersion Program Fund to finance the grant program, which would be credited with money appropriated by the Legislature, any gifts, grants, or donations made to the fund, and any other available revenue. NJSBA supports the bill.
Electric School Buses S-2874 authorizes the use of certain electric school buses and provides that the maximum overall width of an electric school bus operated in New Jersey is not to exceed 102 inches, excluding accessories. Current regulations restrict the width of all school buses to 96 inches. The increased permissible width set forth in the bill would apply to electric school buses exclusively. NJSBA supports the measure.
Opioid Abuse Policies SR-59 urges New Jersey’s school districts and nonpublic schools to adopt a policy to address abuse of prescription opioids by students. This non-binding Senate resolution urges school districts and nonpublic schools to adopt a policy, as suggested by the NJSIAA Medical Advisory Committee, to address the abuse of prescription opioids by students. The policy would include: notification to the school nurse by the student’s parent or guardian if an opioid medication has been prescribed; and drug monitoring if the student demonstrates any signs or symptoms that raise the possibility of opioid abuse during or beyond the duration of the prescription. This resolution, which NJSBA supports, will be distributed by the State Board of Education to all public and nonpublic schools. An identical resolution, AR-156, passed the General Assembly this past February.
Fighting Chronic Absenteeism S-447 requires the education commissioner to include the number and percentage of students who were chronically absent and the number and percentage of students who received a disciplinary suspension on School Report Cards data. This bill also requires that, in the event that 10 percent or more of the students enrolled in a public school are chronically absent, the school must develop a corrective action plan to improve absenteeism rates. In developing the corrective action plan, the school must solicit input from parents and then present the plan to the board of education. The school would annually review and revise the plan until the percent of students who are chronically absent is less than 10 percent.
During earlier deliberations on the bill, the NJSBA expressed concerns over the definition of chronic absenteeism in the original version of the bill. As a result, the committee amended the bill providing that the NJDOE will determine the definition of chronic absenteeism through regulation instead. NJSBA will continue to monitor the bill’s progress.
Passed General Assembly
The following bills passed the full Assembly and now move over to the Senate:
Health Care Cost Transparency S-2459/A-4798 requires health insurance consultants and carriers to provide certain health insurance information to local governing bodies, including local boards of education, and requires this information to be reviewed in advance of the preparation of their annual budgets. Under the bill, a health insurance consultant that contracts with a municipality, county, or school board would be required to annually disclose to the unit or board the amount of compensation received in the prior year from a carrier for any insurance consultant services provided in connection with a contract awarded to the carrier by the local governing body. The bill would also require a carrier that contracts with a municipality, county, or school board to provide health care data on a biannual basis.
Health insurance is a major expense for municipalities, counties, and school boards. By requiring greater transparency in health insurance usage and costs, as well as requiring review of this information, this bill aims to help local governing bodies ensure that taxpayer funds are being spent on their employees’ health insurance in a cost-effective manner.
As introduced, A-4798/S-2459 only applied to counties and municipalities. Before the bill was released from committee, the NJSBA successfully obtained an amendment to the bill to make it applicable to school districts. NJSBA supports the legislation. The measure now returns to the Senate, which unanimously approved a previous version of S-2459, to concur with amendments made in the Assembly.
Backgrounds Checks for Athletics Officials A-448 requires that a criminal history records check be conducted on any person who serves as an official for an interscholastic athletics meet, game, or tournament sanctioned by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA). A prospective or current official will be disqualified from serving as an official for any interscholastic athletic event sanctioned by the NJSIAA if the person’s criminal history record information reveals a record of conviction for a disqualifying crime or offense. The bill incorporates by reference the list of disqualifying crimes and offenses applicable to prospective school employees.
Instruction on Interacting with Police A-1114 requires school districts to provide instruction on interacting with law enforcement in a manner marked by mutual cooperation and respect, and on the rights of individuals when interacting with a law enforcement official, as part of the implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Social Studies. The instruction must provide students with information on: the role and responsibilities of a law enforcement official in providing for public safety; an individual’s responsibilities to comply with a directive from a law enforcement official; and an individual’s rights under law in interacting with a law enforcement official. The bill also directs the commissioner of education to appoint an advisory committee, which would include a representative of the NJSBA, to assist in the development of a curriculum for the implementation of the instructional requirement.
Student Online Privacy A-1272, known as the “Student Online Personal Protection Act,” concerns the personally identifiable information of a public or nonpublic school student that is not publicly available, and is created or gathered by or provided to the operator of an internet website, online service, online application, or mobile application that is designed and marketed for K-12 school purposes.
Under the legislation, the operator is prohibited from:
- Engaging in targeted advertising if it is based on any information that the operator has acquired because of the use of that operator’s site, service, or application for K-12 school purposes;
- Using information created or gathered by the operator’s site, service, or application, to amass a profile about a student except in furtherance of K-12 school purposes;
- Selling or renting a student’s information; or
- Disclosing certain information regarding a student.
In addition to the list of prohibited practices listed above, the bill also requires an operator to:
- Implement and maintain reasonable security procedures and practices which are designed to protect student information from unauthorized access, destruction, use, modification, or disclosure;
- Delete within a reasonable time period a student’s information if the school district or charter school requests deletion of covered information under the control of the school district or K-12 school;
- Disclose, in a manner that is clear and easy to understand, the types of information that are collected or generated, the purposes for which the information is used or disclosed to third parties, and the identity of such third parties;
- Implement policies for responding to data breaches involving unauthorized acquisition of or access to personally identifiable information; and
- Delete information in a reasonable timeframe after it ceases to provide services to a school district, school, or student.
NJSBA supports the legislation.
Summer Meal Programs A-4906 requires each school district and nonpublic school in New Jersey to notify each student and the student’s parent or guardian of the availability and criteria of eligibility for the summer meals program and the locations in the local school district where the summer meals are available. Notification would be made by distributing flyers provided by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. The bill directs the department to develop and distribute to each school district and nonpublic school in the state. Additionally, school districts and schools are permitted to provide electronic notice of the information through the usual means by which the school district or school communicates with parents and students electronically. NJSBA supports the bill
Online Applications for School Lunch and Breakfast A-4908 would require the NJDOE to develop and make available to each school district and nonprofit nonpublic school participating in the National School Lunch Program or in a school breakfast program, an internet-based online school meal application for eligible students to participate in these programs. Schools participating in these programs would be encouraged to make the online school meal application available. A participating school district or nonprofit nonpublic school that implements the online school meal application would also be required to continue to make paper applications available. NJSBA supports the bill.
Penalties for Tampering with Emergency Warning Devices A-4983 provides that an employee of a public or nonpublic school who knowingly damages, disconnects, tampers, or interferes with the operation of a public or nonpublic school loudspeaker, alarm, or other emergency warning device or system will be liable to a civil penalty of $1,000 for each offense.
Expansion of Summer Meal Program AR-254, a non-binding Assembly resolution, urges the president and Congress to expand access to the after-school summer meal programs and streamline the application process. Streamlining would allow public and private organizations to complete one application so that they can provide children meals after school, during the summer, on weekends and during school holidays. NJSBA supports the resolution.
Expanding Eligibility for Federal Nutrition Programs AR-255, also a non-binding resolution, urges the U.S. Department of Agriculture to increase the funding for, and availability of, school nutrition programs to children throughout the state by lowering the eligibility threshold for federal nutrition programs from 50 percent to 40 percent of children in an area being eligible to receive free or reduced price school meals. Lowering the percentage to 40 percent would allow more children eligible to receive the nutritional assistance these programs provide. NJSBA supports the resolution.