On Monday, June 20, the Senate and General Assembly held voting sessions and sent a handful of bills affecting local school districts to the governor’s desk. The governor may now sign, recommend changes through a conditional veto, or issue an absolute veto for the following measures:
S-2099/A-3728 places a two-year moratorium on moving the date of a Type II school district’s annual school election from the day of the November general election back to the third Tuesday in April. The moratorium would run from June 1, 2016 to May 31, 2018. Any school district’s annual election that has been moved to the date of the general election would not be permitted to return the election to April. The bill also creates a “School District Annual Election Study Commission.” The purpose of the commission would be to study: (1) the voter turnout data and the fiscal impact and cost savings of moving the date of the annual school election for school districts to be held simultaneously with the general election; (2) the voter turnout estimates and implications and the fiscal impact and cost savings of moving the date of the annual school election for school districts from the date of the general election (the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November) to the third Tuesday in April; and (3) the implications of moving the annual election as described in (1) and (2) on proposed school budgets. The commission will consist of 10 members, including a representative recommend by NJSBA. NJSBA opposes S-2099/A-3728 as it threatens local control embedded in current law. The NJSBA believes that the existing statute protects local decision-making by local boards of education and the communities that they serve.
S-86/A-3629 establishes Class Three special law enforcement officers to provide security in public and nonpublic schools and county colleges. Such officers would be authorized to provide security at a school while they are on school premises during hours when the school is normally in session or when it is occupied by students or their teachers. To be eligible to serve in this capacity, Class Three SLEOs (special law enforcement officers) would be required to:
- Be retired police officers less than 65 years old;
- Have served as duly qualified, fully-trained, full-time municipal or county police officers, or as members of the State Police;
- Be separated from that prior service in good standing within three years of appointment as a Class Three SLEO (or within five years during the first year following the bill’s enactment);
- Be physically capable of performing the functions of the position;
- Possess N.J. Police Training Commission Basic Police Officer Certification or N.J. State Police Academy Certification; and
- Be hired in a part-time capacity.
Unlike Class One and Class Two SLEOs, Class Three officers would not be subject to the statutory 20-hour work week limit. In addition, Class Three SLEOs would not be eligible for any health care or retirement benefits. The restrictions on carrying a firearm currently applicable to Class Two special officers would also apply to Class Three SLEOs. Class Three officers would not be authorized to carry a firearm while off duty.
While generally supportive of the measure, the NJSBA expressed concerns with an amendment adopted during committee deliberations that removed the requirement that the new class of officer complete a school resource officer (SRO) training course, which would ensure they are appropriately equipped to work with students and deal with school climate issues.
A-2566/S-496 directs the commissioner of education to develop and establish an initiative to support and encourage the use of a Response to Intervention (RTI) framework by school districts to promote the achievement of all students. The bill requires the commissioner to ensure that an RTI framework implemented by a school district includes, at a minimum, certain elements that are commonly recognized as core components of any RTI model. These elements include: (1) high quality research-based instruction in the general education setting; (2) universal screening procedures to identify students at risk for poor learning outcomes or behavioral challenges; (3) multiple levels of evidence-based interventions that are progressively more intense, based on the student’s responsiveness; and (4) continuous monitoring of student progress. Finally, the bill requires the commissioner to make technical assistance and training available to assist school districts in implementing an RTI framework. NJSBA supports the legislation.
A-2689/S-754, the “Secure Schools for All Children Act,” establishes a state aid program for security services, equipment or technology to ensure a safe and secure school environment for nonpublic school students. This bill would codify into law the non-public security aid allocation ($11.3 million) included in the FY2017 budget bill. NJSBA believes that A-2689/S-754 would divert already scarce public resources to private schools. Additionally, this legislation would unduly burden certain school districts with bureaucratic responsibilities simply because private schools operate within their borders. The superintendent of the public school district, as well as his or her support staff, is already overburdened with the duties of serving the district in which they were hired. They should not have the additional burden of dealing with private schools and the associated liability thrust upon them. Although NJSBA opposes this measure, the Association was able to have the bill amended to shield the public school district from any legal liability that may arise should the security services, equipment or technology prove faulty.
S-2081/A-3790 limits expulsions and suspensions for students in preschool through grade two in a school district or charter school. Current law outlines the types of conduct that may constitute good cause for the suspension or expulsion of a student from school; this bill would limit expulsions and suspensions for students enrolled in preschool through second grade in a school district or charter school. Under the bill, students in preschool through second grade may not be expelled from school, except as provided pursuant to the “Zero Tolerance for Guns Act.” The bill also prohibits out-of-school suspensions for students in kindergarten through second grade, except when the suspension is based on conduct that is of a violent or sexual nature that endangers others. In addition, the bill prohibits all suspensions for preschool students. NJSBA supports the bill.
A-3851/S-2033 authorizes boards of education, municipalities, and counties to pay certain claims through the use of standard electronic funds transfer (EFT) technologies. Under the bill, the governing body of a local unit may adopt policies for the payment of claims through the use of one or more standard EFT technologies in lieu of payment through the use of checks or warrants. The NJSBA has long believed that boards of education should be able to take advantage of electronic procurement technology and practices that result in streamlined purchasing procedures and more efficient use of taxpayer funds. The NJSBA strongly supports the measure.
Pension Amendment One Step Closer to Ballot The General Assembly approved ACR-109, which proposes a constitutional amendment to require the state to make its payment to the pension systems for public employees each year and to establish in the New Jersey Constitution the rights of public employees vested in these pension systems to receive earned pension benefits. An identical resolution was approved by both the Senate and General Assembly in the previous legislative session, but did not obtain the requisite approval of three-fifths of the membership of each house of the Legislature in order to place it before the voters at the next general election. However, if the amendment adopted by the General Assembly on Monday also receives a simple majority approval by the Senate, it will go on the ballot in November for voter consideration. The Senate is expected to take up the measure this coming Thursday.
Several other education-related bills passed either the Senate or General Assembly and could be taken up by the other house in the future. The following provides a rundown of those measures:
The following bills passed the Senate:
S-436 requires the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) to encourage each board of education to offer instruction in media literacy, including the means to demystify violent images, and to study the feasibility of incorporating the instruction into the curriculum framework that is developed to implement the Common Core State Standards in English language arts. NJSBA supports the bill.
S-1144 requires that a public school district must provide a daily recess period of at least 20 minutes for students in grades kindergarten through five. If feasible, the recess period is to be held outdoors. Identical legislation was “pocket vetoed” by the governor at the end of the 2014-2015 legislative session. NJSBA supports the bill.
S-1451 requires the NJDOE to make available on its website an electronic database of legal decisions concerning special education in New Jersey. The database must be easily accessed by anyone who wishes to obtain information on legal decisions regarding New Jersey special education matters. The department may meet the requirements of this bill by maintaining the database directly on its website or by entering into a memorandum of understanding with another entity or organization that maintains an electronic database of the legal decisions. NJSBA supports the legislation.
S-2182 requires each public and nonpublic school to provide students with more information about NJ STARS, the student tuition assistance scholarship program, and to improve student notification of potential eligibility for the program.
The following measures passed the General Assembly:
A-313 requires certain additional school district personnel to complete a training program on suicide prevention. Under current law, public school teaching staff members receive instruction in suicide prevention as part of their professional development requirements. This bill provides that a school district employee who is not subject to the current professional development requirement and an employee of a contracted service provider, who has regular and direct contact with students as determined by the board of education, will be required to complete a one-time training program in suicide prevention, awareness, and response developed or identified by the NJDOE. In addition, each school district and contracted service provider is to annually provide its employees with an educational fact sheet and guidelines on the school district’s reporting and suicide prevention, awareness, and response protocols. NJSBA supports the measure.
A-2292 requires that the NJDOE conduct a review of the Core Curriculum Content Standards in health and physical education to ensure that guidance for substance abuse instruction incorporates the most recent evidence-based standards and practices. NJSBA supports the bill.
A-3396 directs the State Board of Education to require that a school district provide in each of the grades kindergarten through eight, financial literacy instruction to pupils enrolled in those grades. NJSBA supports the bill.