Over the past week, the Senate Education Committee and several other legislative committees advanced legislation impacting New Jersey’s school districts and public school students. The following provides a rundown of school-related measures receiving committee approval.

Senate Education Committee (Monday, March 4)

Substance Abuse Prevention Grants  S-85 directs the Commissioner of Education to provide grants to school districts to support a substance abuse prevention program for eighth-grade students.  The program would include two components, a faculty and parent education component and a student education component.  In order to participate in the grant program, a school district would be required to submit an application to the commissioner.  The school district, as part of the application, must certify that the district’s budget includes funds to finance a substance abuse prevention program for eighth-grade students.  The funds may be district funds, funds raised through donations, or federal funds.  The commissioner will develop criteria for the evaluation of applications for grants, and based upon the criteria, will provide to each selected school district a grant in such amount as he determines. NJSBA supports the bill, which now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

Restorative Justice in Education Pilot Program  S-2564 directs the commissioner of education to establish a five-year “Restorative Justice in Education Pilot Program” to implement restorative justice practices in the public schools.  The bill defines “restorative justice” as a system of dispute resolution that allows all parties of a dispute to be involved in defining the harm, and devising remedies, while giving the necessary attention to community safety, victims’ needs, and the need for offender accountability.  The pilot program will address school discipline issues through restorative justice practices.  Under the bill, the goals of the pilot program are to reduce racial disparities in school discipline; improve the socioemotional and behavioral responses of students through more appropriate, and less punitive, interventions; and to reduce recidivism rates among students who violate the school district code of conduct. NJSBA supports the measure.

School Psychologist Grant Program S-2843 would establish a $1 million grant program in the N.J. Department of Education to assist school districts in the hiring of school psychologists. The commissioner of education would establish an application process, pursuant to criteria included in the bill, and award the grants on a competitive basis. NJSBA supports the measure.

Mental Health Education S-2861/S-3081 requires school districts to ensure that their health education programs for students in grades kindergarten through 12 recognize the multiple dimensions of health by including mental health, and the relation between physical and mental health, to enhance student understanding, attitudes, and behaviors that promote health, well-being, and human dignity.  The instruction in mental health must be adapted to the age and understanding of the students.  The instruction will also include information on substance abuse.

The legislation also directs the State Board of Education to review and update the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education to ensure the incorporation of instruction in mental health in an appropriate place in the curriculum of students in grades kindergarten through 12.  In its review, the State Board is directed to consult with mental health experts. NJSBA supports the measure.

Later School Start Time Pilot S-3160 establishes a four-year pilot program in the N.J. Department of Education on later school start times for high school students. The program would implement later school start times for high school students in selected school districts and study the issues, benefits, and options for instituting a later start time to the school day. The commissioner will select five school districts from urban, suburban, and rural areas of the state to participate in the pilot program. NJSBA supports the bill.

Suicide Prevention Programs Current law requires that instruction in suicide prevention be included in an appropriate place in the curriculum of elementary school, middle school, and high school students. S-3172 provides that the instruction in suicide prevention will also include mental health as it relates to suicide prevention.  The instruction must incorporate evidence-based standards and be adapted to the age and understanding of the students.

The bill also provides elements that may be included as part of the instruction:

  • The concept of wellness including self-care and personal responsibility for one’s own mental health and wellness.
  • The concept of mental health as an integral part of health.
  • Recognition of the warning signs of suicide.
  • Awareness of the risk of suicide and self-harm.
  • The relationship between mental health, substance abuse, and other negative coping behaviors.
  • The negative impact of stigma and cultural attitudes toward mental illness.
  • The implications of risk factors, protective factors, and resiliency on mental health and wellness.
  • Identifying appropriate professionals, services, and family supports for suicide prevention.

NJSBA supports the bill.

Strengthening Gifted and Talented EducationS-3258, entitled the “Strengthening Gifted and Talented Education Act,” establishes various school district responsibilities in educating gifted and talented students. The bill codifies a requirement included in State Board of Education regulations that boards of education ensure that appropriate instructional adaptations and educational services are provided to gifted and talented students in kindergarten through grade 12 to enable them to participate in, benefit from, and demonstrate knowledge and application of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards. Under the bill, a school district would be required to:

  • Ensure that appropriate instructional adaptations are designed for gifted and talented students.
  • Make provisions for an ongoing identification process for gifted and talented students that includes multiple measures in order to identify student strengths in various academic areas.
  • Maintain a list of students identified as gifted and talented in each grade for each school within the school district.
  • Develop and document appropriate curricular and instructional modifications used for gifted and talented students indicating content, process, products, and learning environment.
  • Take into consideration the Pre-K-Grade 12 Gifted Programming Standards of the National Association for Gifted Children in developing programs for gifted and talented students.
  • Provide the time and resources to develop, review, and enhance instructional tools with modifications for helping gifted and talented students acquire and demonstrate mastery of the required knowledge and skills specified by the standards in one or more content area at the instructional level of the student, not just the student’s grade level.
  • Actively assist and support professional development for teachers, educational services staff, and school leaders in the area of gifted and talented instruction.

The bill also requires the commissioner of education to appoint a coordinator for gifted and talented programs.  The coordinator will be responsible for reviewing the gifted and talented program implemented in each school district.  It also requires school districts to post detailed information on their websites regarding the policies and procedures used to identify students as gifted and talented and the continuum of services offered within the school district. The information must include the criteria used for consideration for participation in the gifted and talented program, and any applicable timelines in the selection process. The student’s records must document that the student has been identified by the school district as a gifted and talented student.

NJSBA supports the intent of the bill and plans on working with the sponsor if any modifications need to be made as it moves forward.

Tuition Setting for PSSDs The committee advanced two measures that would alter how tuition rates are calculated for approved private schools for students with disabilities (PSSDs):

S-3287 permits approved private schools for students with disabilities to include in tuition calculation hourly rates for healthcare provider consultants, which equal average hourly rates paid by certain public schools serving students with disabilities. This bill would permit an approved private school for students with disabilities (APSSD) to include in the calculation of the certified actual cost per student a total maximum hourly rate for a licensed healthcare provider it hires as a consultant that does not exceed the statewide average hourly rate paid by county special services school districts and educational services commissions. Under current state law, the APSSD may not charge a tuition rate to sending school districts which exceeds the actual cost per student, and State Board of Education regulations determine which costs are permitted to be included in the calculation of the actual cost per student. The bill permits approved private schools for students with disabilities to include in the tuition calculation hourly rates for healthcare provider consultants, which equal average hourly rates paid by certain public schools serving students with disabilities.

Currently, the hourly rate paid by an APSSD to psychiatrists and physicians with proper medical credentials is limited to the maximum allowable salary which may be paid by the APSSD to its chief school administrators, executive directors, or directors, or the hourly breakdown of this amount.  If a psychiatrist or physician charges the APSSD a higher rate, the APSSD may not include the excess amount in the tuition rate charged to school districts.

S-3288 requires NJDOE to define expenditures for behavior modification at approved private schools for students with disabilities as allowable instructional cost for the purpose of setting a tuition rate. Behavior modification is an evidenced-based instructional strategy and is a vital component to the individualized education program (IEP) for many students with disabilities, including those with autism and emotional disabilities.

Commission on Latino and Hispanic Heritage S-3327 establishes the Commission on Latino and Hispanic Heritage within the N.J. Department of Education. The purpose of the commission is to survey, design, encourage, and promote the implementation of Latino and Hispanic cultural and educational programs in this state. NJSBA supports the bill.

Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee (Monday, March 4)

The committee released the following measures:

Child Trafficking Awareness   A-1428/S-2653 would establish a “Child Trafficking Awareness Pilot Program” in the NJDOE to train school district staff about warning signs and how to prevent child trafficking. The bill directs the Commissioner of Education to develop and administer a three-year Child Trafficking Awareness Pilot Program to provide school district staff and students in selected districts with training about the warning signs and risk factors associated with child trafficking and prevention.  Under the provisions of the bill, the commissioner will select two districts in each of the southern, central, and northern regions of the state to participate in the program, seeking a cross-section of school districts from urban, suburban, and rural areas. At the program’s conclusion, the commissioner will submit a report to the governor and the Legislature on the implementation of the pilot program and the commissioner’s recommendation on the feasibility of implementing the program on a statewide basis. NJSBA supports the bill.

The committee advanced two other measures, both supported by NJSBA, designed to expand apprenticeship opportunities for New Jersey residents.

S-3062 provides businesses with a credit against the corporation business tax or the gross income tax for each employee employed in an apprenticeship registered with the United States Department of Labor (DOL). The purpose of the tax credit is to encourage employers to add highly skilled workers to New Jersey’s workforce.  The DOL-registered apprenticeship system combines technical instruction with structured on-the-job experience to match individuals with employers in need of qualified, skilled workers.

S-3070 provides funding for the New Jersey Pathways Leading Apprentices to a College Education (NJ PLACE) program to establish college credit towards degrees in connection with new and existing apprenticeship programs, and directs consortia that receive grants from the Youth Transitions to Work Partnership to use a portion of the grants to establish programs to provide linkages from apprenticeship to post-secondary education.

Senate Judiciary Committee (Thursday, March 7) / Assembly Judiciary Committee (Monday, March 11)

The Judiciary committees of both houses advanced legislation that would expand the civil statute of limitations for victims of sexual assault.

S-477/A-3648 would increase the statute of limitations to 37 years for civil actions concerning child sexual abuse. NJSBA supported the legislation, because NJSBA believes that local boards of education should provide conditions and establish policies that will ensure the health and safety of students. The NJSBA further believes that a child’s physical and mental well-being is a prerequisite for academic achievement. Abuse and neglect are direct threats to this well-being.  NJSBA had concerns about the fiscal challenges in the bill, particularly about retroactive liability for claims that had expired under the current law and asked that these provisions be clarified in the proposal.  The bill now heads to both the Assembly and Senate for votes.