On Monday, June 29th, the Senate and General Assembly convened at the State House for the first in-person voting sessions held since mid-March. Among the items approved was a three–month appropriations bill that will fund state government operations through the end of September. Gov. Murphy signed the appropriations bill into law on June 30.
The Mini Budget
On June 29, both houses of the legislature passed A–3/S–20. In the spring, the Legislature and governor agreed to extend the current fiscal year by three months and reduce fiscal year 2021 to nine months. This bill funds the state from July through September.
It is expected school districts will receive their usual July payment, which is actually the final payment of the previous fiscal year. Starting in September, districts will begin receiving funding for the 2020–2021 academic year. This state aid will reflect the revised state aid amounts announced on May 22, and can be accessed here. Additionally, the second payment of September will be delayed to early October. This is similar to how the last payment of the fiscal year in June is actually made at the beginning of the new fiscal year in July.
Bills Passed Both Houses
The following bills affecting public school districts and students also received final legislative approval on Monday and now await action by Gov. Murphy:
Graduation Insurance Coverage A-4227/S-2558 Ensures insurance coverage for certain persons attending school graduation exercises in July and August of 2020. This bill provides that people attending school-sponsored graduation exercises held by a school district or charter high school between July 1, 2020 and Aug. 31, 2020, who have graduated from the school or were employed by the school in the immediately preceding school year will, for purposes of insurance coverages afforded the school’s registered and enrolled student population beginning July 1, 2020 or for the purposes of insurance coverages afforded the school’s employees beginning on that date, be considered included in the enrolled and registered student population or be considered as a school employee, as applicable, while attending the graduation exercises. NJSBA supported the bill which, if signed into law, would be effective immediately.
Electronic Petitions A-4037/S–2433 Requires electronic signature and submission process for all candidate, recall, initiative, and referendum petitions for remaining 2020 elections and thereafter during COVID-19 emergency. The NJSBA requested the bill and gained clarifying amendments making it applicable to the November school board elections. The NJSBA thanks the sponsors and the Legislature for their swift action. If signed, the bill would be effective immediately. The deadline for filing nominating petitions for November school board candidacy is Monday, July 27.
Electronic Construction Procurement Act S-2085/A-3785 requires all state-level contracting units to use an electronic procurement process for public works construction contracts whenever such a project requires public advertisement. While the use of electronic procurement would be required for state agencies, the bill is permissive for school districts and other local governing units, such as counties and municipalities.
The electronic construction procurement process to be used by boards of education would be the process developed by the director of the Division of Local Government Services to implement a 2018 law known as “Local Unit Electronic Procurement Act.” That law permitted local units to use electronic procurement practices for the purchase of utility services, the sale of surplus property and any other purpose authorized by the local governing body. S-2085/A-3785 explicitly extends authorization to use electronic procurement for construction projects.
Importantly, if any local governing body chooses to use the electronic procurement process, the bill prohibits the unit from incurring any costs or fees related to its use, such as any cost or fee related to the use or purchase of any required equipment or software. Therefore, the legislation will not impose any costs on school districts. In addition, official NJSBA policy holds 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. Therefore, the NJSBA supports the bill.
Apprenticeship Mentoring Program S-973/A-1408 requires the N.J. Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development, in consultation with the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) and the chief diversity officer of New Jersey, to establish a peer-to-peer statewide apprenticeship mentoring program for women, minorities, and people with disabilities. According to the bill statement, the purpose of the program is to provide mentoring and support services to women, minorities, and people with disabilities, as well as to establish a network of peers involved in apprenticeship groups among those groups. The bill also requires the labor commissioner to analyze which groups of people are under-represented in industries throughout the state, and then form employee resource groups for apprentices involved in those industries. NJSBA supports the legislation.
Assembly Voting Session
The following bill has passed the full Assembly and moves to the Senate for further consideration:
QSAC Flexibility A-4006 postpones New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJQSAC) review for certain school districts to accommodate disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill would postpone the comprehensive review under NJQSAC for certain school districts in order to allow the districts and the NJDOE to focus their time and resources in addressing issues related to the pandemic. The bill provides that the comprehensive review will instead take place in the 2021-2022 school year.
Senate Voting Session
The following bills passed the full Senate and now move to the General Assembly for further consideration:
State School Nurse Consultant S-2573 establishes the position of “State School Nurse Consultant” in the NJDOE to facilitate best practices in school nursing by advancing comprehensive school health services. This bill requires the commissioner of education to appoint the consultant to work with school districts and school nurses to promote quality school nursing services and school health programs that address the broad health needs of students throughout the state. The person appointed to the position is required to be a certified school nurse who holds a master’s degree in nursing, has management experience, leadership and education administration training or skills. NJSBA supports the bill.
School Bus Driver Abstracts S-485 requires a school bus driver’s complete motor vehicle driving record to be shared annually with the board of education or school bus contractor employing the driver and to the local police where the driver operates the school bus. NJSBA supports the bill.
Senate Education Committee Meets
On Thursday, June 25th the Senate Education Committee met and advanced the following measures:
Bias Training for Arbitrators S-699 requires members of the panel of arbitrators who hear and decide tenure charge matters to receive training related to cultural diversity and bias. The requirement builds upon a 2019 law that requires such arbitrators to complete training on conduct that is unbecoming of an employee. NJSBA supports the bill.
Inclusive Textbooks S-1512 requires the NJDOE to develop and maintain a list of textbook vendors that incorporate inclusive material in their textbooks and to distribute the list to school districts and make the list publicly available on the department’s website. “Inclusive material” means content in a textbook that accurately portrays the diversity of our society, in such areas as gender, race, ethnicity, disability, gender identity or expression, and sexual orientation. Under the bill, when a school district determines to acquire a new textbook, the district will be required to select the textbook from a vendor that is included on the department’s list. Notwithstanding, the bill allows a school district to propose to the commissioner of education a textbook vendor that is not currently on the department’s list and to acquire and use textbooks from that vendor upon the approval of the commissioner. NJSBA supported the bill, however, requested an amendment to the language. Districts should be encouraged (not required) to select the textbook from a vendor.
Title IX Compliance S-2162 requires public schools, and nonpublic schools which receive federal funding, to provide students with information on rights afforded under Title IX, and provide contact information for Title IX coordinator. NJSBA supports the bill.
SEL Pilot Program S-2486 establishes the “Clayton Model Pilot Program” in NJDOE to provide school-based social emotional learning to students in grades kindergarten through five at certain public schools. According to the sponsor’s statement, the Clayton Model has been shown to improve significantly students’ social and emotional health, academic performance, and caregivers’ supports. This bill would create a five-year pilot program in the NJDOE to expand the Clayton Model to 10 public schools in each of three counties. The commissioner of education will select either Morris or Sussex County to represent the northern area of the state and either Middlesex or Ocean County to represent the central area of the state. Under the bill, Gloucester County will represent the southern area. NJSBA supports the bill.
Use of Reserve Funds During Emergencies S-2507 allows districts to use capital reserve funds to support the general fund. The circumstances in which this would be allowed is when schools are closed for at least three consecutive days “due to a declared public health emergency, a state of emergency, or a directive by the appropriate health agency or officer to institute a public health–related closure.” The reserve funds can be used for expenses related to the emergency or expenses incurred in connection with the transition to and use of virtual or remote instruction. If enacted, the bill would be retroactive to March 18, 2020.
NJSBA supports the bill in its current form. However, it is important the bill remain permissive as an option for school districts in dealing with the current pandemic. If the bill were to change to require such usage of reserve funds, NJSBA would re-evaluate its position on the bill.
Support for Co-Curricular Activities S-2540 establishes a “Co-Curricular Activity Emergency Grant Program” in the NJDOE to support the continued operations of certain academic-related, co-curricular activities that are offered to students by public schools. The bill permits any school district, charter school, or renaissance school to apply to the NJDOE for a co-curricular activity emergency grant. Each grant would be dedicated to supporting the operations of one or more co-curricular activities that are offered to students who attend the recipient school. When submitting an application, the school district, charter school, or renaissance school would be required to designate the co-curricular activities to which grant funding would be dedicated. Under the bill, each grant would be awarded in an amount determined by the commissioner of education. When awarding grants, the commissioner may give preference to applicants that experienced the largest reduction in revenues due to the outbreak of COVID-19, or dedicate funding to specific co-curricular activities. The bill also appropriates $750,000 from the General Fund to support the operations of the grant program. NJSBA supports the bill.
Graduation Insurance Coverage A-4227/S-2558 ensures insurance coverage for certain persons attending school graduation exercises in July and August 2020. This measure received final legislative approval on June 29th (see above).
State School Nurse Consultant S-2573 establishes position in NJDOE to facilitate best practices in school nursing by advancing comprehensive school health services. This legislation was approved by the full Senate on June 29th (see above).
Technology Device Funding S-2603 requires the N.J. Commissioner of Education to distribute to school districts, charter schools, and renaissance schools, within 30 days of the bill’s effective date, the amount of funding necessary for the acquisition of connected devices for all enrolled students who do not have access to such devices. The bill defines a “connected device” as a laptop computer, tablet computer, or similar device that is capable of connecting to broadband Internet access service, either by receiving such service directly or through the use of WiFi. The bill also includes a provision requiring a school district, charter school, or renaissance school that receives funding under the bill’s provisions to reimburse the NJDOE for that funding from any moneys received under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, or any other federal assistance available to address the impact of COVID-19 on schools. This bill is intended to address the barriers to remote learning that many students are experiencing, so that all students may fully participate in the virtual classroom experience. NJSBA supports the bill.