Members of the New Jersey School Boards Association’s Legislative Committee met virtually on Saturday, March 9, and heard from two guest speakers: Sen. Angela McKnight, a Democrat from Legislative District 31; and Assemblywoman Dr. Rosaura “Rosy” Bagolie, a Democrat from Legislative District 27.

Karen Cortellino, M.D., president of NJSBA; and Dr. Timothy Purnell, the Association’s executive director and CEO, welcomed attendees.

Purnell recognized the incredible work done on a daily basis by the Association’s Governmental Relations team. “They relentlessly support all of you,” he said, noting that he relies on the department on “close to a daily basis.”

“Some of us have jobs where we can unplug, but our Governmental Relations team is constantly going,” he said. “I want to take a moment to recognize them and give them a round of applause for the work they do,” he said.

Ray Pinney, the Association’s lead director of member training and engagement, welcomed the new members of the committee; and Chanta L. Jackson, vice president for legislation/resolutions, introduced Bagolie, who serves on the Assembly Education and Assembly Financial Institutions and Insurance committees.

A Jewish-Latina immigrant, Bagolie’s family emigrated from the Dominican Republic to America in search of a better life. She is a lifelong teacher and serves as the chief school administrator of the East Newark School District. Before being elected to the Assembly, she served as a Livingston Township councilwoman.

Bagolie said that for her, coming to the United States and being able to become a school superintendent and a nonvoting member of a board of education – and now an Assemblywoman — is “nothing sort of a dream come true.”

She noted she’s already been hard at work on legislation to address some of the biggest challenges that school districts face, including staffing shortages.

She also supports starting a conversation on how schools are funded. She observed that the days after the governor delivers his budget address are always filled with anticipation as districts wait to see if they will be winners or losers. “That truly should not be the case,” she said. “We should have funding equity, so programs and services that have moved through the Legislature are truly funded.”

She also highlighted obstacles to breaking into the teaching profession, noting that many students “may be drowning in debt” and entering the field may no longer seem like a worthwhile investment. She supports eliminating some of the barriers to entering the profession, such as the Praxis test.

“I would much prefer to have a teacher with BA than a student with 30 college credits being a substitute all year because we can’t find teachers,” she said.

“There needs to be stakeholders at the table to help define what the next school funding formula looks like,” she added.

While the governor may say that the formula is fully funded, “when you look at school districts that are at negative 57% in receiving state aid, that is a drastic hit for those districts,” she said. The formula needs to work for all school districts, she said.

Senator McKnight Also Speaks at Meeting

Jackson also introduced McKnight to the members of the Legislative Committee.

McKnight is a member of the Senate Education; Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens and Senate Law and Public Safety committees.

She took the oath to serve in the Senate earlier this year, and previously was the first New Jersey African American Assemblywoman for the 31st Legislative District, serving four terms. She is the founder and CEO of the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, AngelaCARES, Inc. She also operates multiple businesses and serves on several New Jersey boards.

McKnight believes in taking a “holistic approach regarding education.”

“No one size fits all,” she said. “We have to look at each district individually.” She added, “Every child deserves a quality education – and teachers and faculty require resources, so they can use tools and have a robust toolbox to educate our youth.”

She plans to introduce a bill that would allow taxpayers to make voluntary contributions to aid public schools via their tax return. “Just imagine how much money could be raised if 1 million taxpayers make a voluntary $10 contribution,” she said.

“We need to look at other approaches on how we can add funding to our school system,” she said.

She also supports bringing back cursive writing to public schools.

When you apply for a driver’s license or buy a home, you must sign your name, she observed. “And our children don’t know how to sign,” she said incredulously. “Either we need to change all the documents and make them print or put money into quality education, so our children can at least sign their name.” She added, “There is a correlation between signing and reading cursive, and we have lost that.”

Asked about teacher reciprocity – so teachers certified outside of New Jersey could teach here – both legislators said they support the idea.

Purnell thanked the two legislators for joining the committee on a Saturday morning.

“We are so fortunate to have your advocacy, and we look forward to continuing to work with you,” he said. “Thank you for all you do and for listening intently to our concerns.”

Governmental Relations Team Delivers Update

Jonathan Pushman, the NJSBA’s director of governmental relations, moderated the meeting, and he teamed up with Jesse Young, legislative advocate at the Association, and John Burns, the NJSBA’s senior legislative counsel, to deliver an update on recently passed legislation as well as legislation under review that pertains to education.

Young highlighted the governor’s recently announced Budget in Brief, which was previously detailed in School Board Notes.

Right now, the Association – and everyone else – only has highlights of the governor’s proposed budget, Young emphasized. “This is about 100 pages of what will ultimately be a 600-page budget,” he said.

The trio of NJSBA staffers detailed a variety of bills, including the following recently enacted education-related legislation:

Free School Meal Expansion A-5684/S-4055 (P.L.2023, c.336): Requires certain nonpublic schools to provide meals to all students under the “Working Class Families Anti-Hunger Act”; authorizes limited expansion of income eligibility to qualify public and nonpublic school students for free lunch.

Expedited Certification Route for Paraprofessionals A-5416/S-3883 (P.L.2023, c.327): Requires State Board of Education to authorize alternate route to expedite teacher certification of persons employed as paraprofessionals in school districts.

Nonpublic School Transportation Consortiums A-5412/S-3850 (P.L.2023, c.326): Establishes nonpublic school transportation program to provide funding to consortiums of nonpublic schools that will assume responsibility for mandated nonpublic school busing.

Revisions to School Facilities Law and SDA Operations A-4496/S-3247 (P.L.2023, c.311): Revises various provisions of law governing construction of school facilities projects and operations of New Jersey Schools Development Authority; establishes the “Charter School and Renaissance School Project Facilities Loan Program.”

School Audit Delay A-4033/S-2657 (P.L.2023, c.305): Extends deadline for completion of school district’s annual audit.

FAFSA Graduation Requirement A-1181/S-2054 (P.L.2023, c.295): Requires high school students to complete financial aid applications.

Eliminating April Budget Vote S-4209/A-5879 (P.L.2023, c.289): Eliminates vote on school budgets for Type II school districts in April elections, except for separate proposals to spend above cap.

The team also highlighted a number of “bills on the move,” including multiple bills that are meant to alleviate staffing shortages at schools. Other bills include:

Supplemental Transportation Aid for Certain Districts S-787: Provides supplemental transportation aid to certain districts participating in interdistrict public school choice program.

Eliminating Census-based Funding of Special Education S-1410: Eliminates use of census-based funding of special education aid in school funding law.

Disability Determination Methods S-1812: Establishes requirements concerning methods for determining whether student has specific learning disability under federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Evaluation Review Task Force and Temporary SGO Relief S-2082/A-3413: Establishes New Jersey Educator Evaluation Review Task Force; clarifies collection of student growth data.

November “2nd Questions” A-2784: Authorizes school district that moves its annual school election to November to submit separate proposals for additional spending for budget year and subsequent budget year.

Limited Tax Levy Cap Flexibility S-2434: Provides tax levy cap adjustment for certain school districts experiencing reductions in state school aid.

You can get a more detailed account of recently passed legislation pertaining to education as well as bills in the pipeline by reading previous issues of School Board Notes.

To view the full text of any of the bills summarized above, please visit the New Jersey Legislature’s website.