On Monday, June 27, both budget committees of the New Jersey Legislature approved the state appropriations act for fiscal year 2023. The measures, S-2023/A-4402, would appropriate more than $50 billion while providing a total of $18.6 billion to the New Jersey Department of Education, a 3% increase over the fiscal year 2022 budget. Education highlights of the budget bill and related spending measures include:
PK-12 Direct Aid
- $9.54 billion in General Formula Aid (SFRA aid categories), the same amount proposed by Gov. Phil Murphy in his March 2022 budget address and an approximately 7.5% increase over fiscal year 2022 levels. This funding amount would keep New Jersey on the path to fully funding the SFRA by the 2024-2025 school year according to the schedule set forth by the school funding reform law commonly referred to as “S-2”, making the full scheduled phase-in for fiscal year 2023.
- $991.83 million in Preschool Education Aid, the same amount proposed by the governor in March and a $67.68 million increase over fiscal year 2022. As the governor proposed, the budget bill would direct $40 million of that increase to new high-quality preschool programs in accordance with state standards.
- $30 million in Stabilization Aid, designed to assist districts in implementing plans to adjust to their new funding levels under S-2. This represents a $10 million, or a 50% increase over the governor’s March 2022 proposal. The NJSBA supports increasing stabilization aid funds. As we detailed in our March 2022 testimony on the governor’s proposal, NJSBA recognizes that that significant inflationary pressures and supply chain challenges may make transitional support necessary to avoid cuts in staff, programs and services for districts experiencing state aid reductions.
- $420 million in Extraordinary Special Education Costs Aid, a $20 million or 5% increase over the governor’s March 2022 proposal and the fiscal year 2022 amount. Increasing extraordinary special education costs aid to levels necessary to meet 100% of eligible costs has been a longtime priority of NJSBA.
School Facilities Funding
- $85 million to continue support for capital maintenance projects and emergent needs in school districts, including $75 million for traditional districts (the same as fiscal year 2022 and the governor’s proposal) and $10 million for charter schools (a $5 million increase over fiscal year 2022 and the governor’s proposal).
- $1.9 billion appropriated from the New Jersey Debt Defeasance and Prevention Fund to the New Jersey School Development Authority for school facilities projects, emergent needs, and capital maintenance projects in school districts. Of that, $1.55 billion would be dedicated to SDA districts and $350 million to all other districts. This represents a significant expansion of the state’s allocation to SDA for facility project work. The governor’s proposed budget included a $350 million direct appropriation to SDA to support projects in SDA districts, which was a $150 million or 75% increase over fiscal year 2022’s $200 million figure.
- $250,000 for a “Learning Loss Program” and $1 million for a “Learning Loss Report” to “support school districts and aid a statewide effort to analyze, understand and address the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on learning loss and create tangible strategies and tools to mitigate the impact on student academic success.”
- $2 million for the “Reading Acceleration and Professional Integrated Development” program. While the budget itself does not include any language describing this program, the governor’s proposal included the same line item, which at the time was intended to “assess learning loss statewide so the [DOE] can develop long-term recommendations.”
- $5 million for Climate Change Education Grants to Schools to support the implementation of the NJDOE’s new climate change education standards, including through TA, PD, and instructional materials. This line item also includes $500,000 for the NJDOE to establish an Office of Climate Change Education.
- $2 million to continue the state’s Computer Science for All initiatives.
- $200,000 to establish an Office of School Bus Safety in NJDOE (P.L.2021, c.471).
- $1.3 million to continue the state’s support of initiatives to diversify the teacher pipeline.
- $1 million for the “New Jersey Tutoring Corps” program.
- $1.1 million for teacher loan redemption programs.
School Climate/Social Emotional Learning/Mental Health Programs
- $500,000 to for the state to continue implementing the Restorative Justice in Education program (P.L.2019, c.412).
- $500,000 for the state to continue implementing the School-Based Mental Health Training Grant Program (P.L.2021, c.322).
- $27.56 million for DCF’s School Linked Services Program, a $1 million increase over fiscal year 2022.
- $2.5 million for the Clayton Model Pilot Program (P.L.2021, c.85).
- $10 million for the Local Efficiency Achievement Program.
- $5 million to implement P.L.2021, c.402, the school district regionalization law enacted in January 2022.
ARP SFRF Funds
The budget allocates federal funds received by the state through the American Rescue Plan State Fiscal Recovery Fund to the NJDOE for the following purposes:
- $120 million for Universal Pre-K Facilities Fund (SDA).
- $3.6 million for “Developing Resiliency with Engaging Approaches to Maximize Success.”
- $3.3 million for educator and staff training initiatives
State Payments on Behalf of Districts
- $3.20 billion for teachers’ pension (i.e., TPAF) costs.
- $1.05 billion for TPAF post-retirement medical benefits.
- $861.85 million for Social Security tax contributions.
Assembly Budget Committee
In addition to advancing the fiscal year 2023 Appropriations Act, the Assembly Budget Committee also advanced the following:
Eliminating edTPA S-896/A-677 would prohibit the State Board of Education from requiring the completion of a commissioner of education approved performance-based assessment (i.e., edTPA) as a requirement for teacher certification. It would remove this requirement for the obtainment of a certificate of eligibility with advanced standing, a certificate of eligibility, or standard certificate. Educator preparation programs would have the option to require their teacher candidates to complete a performance-based assessment approved by an educator preparation program.
Under current State Board of Education regulations, to be eligible for a CE or CEAS, a candidate must pass a commissioner of education approved teacher performance-based assessment, which is currently the edTPA. The edTPA requires teacher candidates and provisional teachers to plan lessons, assess student work and submit a video recording of themselves teaching students. It has been cited by many in the New Jersey educational community as an unnecessary and redundant barrier to entering the teaching profession. Earlier this year, NJSBA was one of nine organizations that sent a letter to the Legislature and State Board of Education urging them to eliminate the edTPA as a requirement for securing a license.
The bill also provides that a person who earned a CEAS or a CE during the 2019-2020 through 2021-2022 school years, and who was unable to complete a commissioner of education approved performance-based assessment due to COVID-19 related disruptions, is exempt from the requirement to complete such an assessment to earn a standard certificate.
NJSBA strongly supports the bill and has argued that the proposed removal of the edTPA assessment from the requirements for teacher certification would not decrease teacher accountability because of the protocols in the TEACHNJ act and novice teacher supports available in local districts. The bill may now be posted for an Assembly floor vote. If approved, it will return to the Senate to concur with changes made in the Assembly before heading to the governor.
Graduation Assessments A-4364 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) 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 classes of 2024 and 2025, providing that these students will be deemed to have met the 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 through 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. The bill’s Senate counterpart, S-50, was approved by the Senate Education Committee. Both measures are primed for final floor votes.
Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee
The committee approved the following measures in addition to the fiscal year 2023 budget:
Free School Meal Expansions A-2368/S-1677, designated as the “Working Class Families’ Anti-Hunger Act,” requires schools to provide free school breakfasts and lunches to students from working class, middle-income families. The bill is a part of a 10-bill package spearheaded by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin aimed at combating hunger and expanding programs for working-class families, seniors and disabled residents.
Currently, students from “low-income” households, defined as those with an annual income that is equal to or less than 185% of the federal poverty level, are entitled to a free breakfast or lunch. This bill would expand eligibility for a free meal by requiring public schools to serve breakfast and lunch, free of charge, to students from working class, middle-income families. The bill defines “middle-income family” as one with an annual household income amounting to not less than 186%, and not more than 199% of the federal poverty level. To avoid an unfunded mandate, the state would provide funding to reimburse the costs associated with each district’s provision of free meals to middle-income students who are federally ineligible for such meals under the National School Lunch Program or federal School Breakfast Program. It is estimated that roughly 26,000 students would become newly eligible for free meals under this proposal at a cost of approximately $19 million. Each school district, and the Department of Agriculture, would be required to publicize to parents and students the fact that free meals are available to middle-income students under these school meal programs, pursuant to the bill’s provisions. The NJSBA supports the expansion of free meals to middle-income students, particularly since the state will pick up the costs of doing so.
Earlier in the legislative process, the NJSBA expressed concerns regarding provisions in the bill that would have required all schools to offer breakfast and lunch to students, regardless of the percentage of students in the schools who are federally eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Under existing law, schools are only required to maintain school breakfast or lunch programs if the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals in a school exceeds 20% or 5%, respectively. The NJSBA successfully obtained amendments to maintain the 5% free or reduced-price meals threshold that triggers a school lunch requirement. In addition, amendments requested by NJSBA raised the breakfast threshold up to 10% free or reduced-price meals while also allowing districts to apply for a waiver from offering breakfast under certain conditions. Districts would be eligible for a waiver of the breakfast program requirements if the DOA determines that the provision of a breakfast program at a school will result in financial hardship for either the school or district.
If signed by the governor, the bill would go into effect Sept. 1, 2023. The deadline for establishing a new breakfast program for students in grades pre-K through sixth grade would be Sept. 1, 2024, and Sept. 1, 2025, for all other grade levels.
Publicizing School Meals A-2365/S-1928 is another measure from the Assembly Speaker’s food insecurity package. This legislation requires each school food authority that provides a food service to public school students to:
(1) Implement a public education campaign that is designed to educate parents and guardians about the various school meals program options that are available to students in New Jersey and the availability of free and reduced-price meals for students who satisfy federal or State-level eligibility criteria.
(2) Develop promotional materials for school meals programs and provide copies of the promotional materials to each school served by the school food authority for distribution to the parents and guardians of students enrolled at the school.
The information above would be disseminated in the two languages that are most commonly spoken in the homes of the students served by the school food authority. NJSBA supports the bill.
Extending Service Life of School Buses S-2593 would extend, for the 2022-2023 school year only, the statutorily permitted service of school buses by one year. For the 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 school years, the bill would allow the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, in consultation with the NJDOE, to allow an additional year of service for any school bus used in the prior year that would otherwise be retired, provided any inspections of the school bus determine that it is safe. NJSBA supports the legislation. The bill’s Assembly counterpart, A-3990, has also obtained committee approval. Both measures may now be posted for floor votes.
To view the full text of any of the bills summarized above, visit the New Jersey Legislature’s website.