On Monday, March 1, the full Assembly advanced several education-related bills. Among those given final legislative approval were two that the NJSBA has been actively supporting throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, one of which is aimed at helping districts obtain COVID-19 related goods and services, and another that would grant districts flexibility in developing their next budget.
Each of the following bills have now passed both houses of the Legislature and head to the governor:
Cooperative Purchasing of COVID-19 Related Goods A-4461/S-2698 requires the state to enter into contracts and coordinate with certain cooperative purchasing systems to assist public schools (i.e., school districts, charter schools, and renaissance schools) in the purchase of COVID-19 related goods and services. Specifically, the legislation directs the N.J. Department of Education (NJDOE) to coordinate with the lead agency of any state-approved cooperative purchasing system that includes one or more boards of education for the procurement of goods and services that aid in meeting COVID-19 health and safety standards. The bill permits the state to award contracts to more than one bidder.
Under the bill, a board of education may purchase COVID-19 related goods and services, upon adoption of a resolution, through the contract or contracts for such goods and services entered into by the NJDOE.
NJSBA supports the bill, which is part of the Association’s “Pandemic Advocacy Agenda” outlined in the August report “Choosing the Best Road Back for Our Children.” In that report, the Association maintained that a statewide mechanism to facilitate school district purchasing of medical supplies and technological devices is critical to restarting the in-person educational process.
Budgeting Flexibility S-2691/A-4310 authorizes school districts, due to the financial impacts of COVID-19, to maintain a surplus at 4% for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years. Under current law a school district, other than a county vocational school district, may only maintain a surplus of 2%. In addition, under the bill, the use or transfer of those funds between line items and program categories shall not require the approval of the New Jersey Commissioner of Education. NJSBA supports the legislation, which is also part of the Association’s pandemic advocacy agenda.
Reciprocity for Out-of-State Teaching Certificates S-2831/A-4783 requires NJDOE establish a five-year Alternate Route Interstate Reciprocity Pilot Program. Under the pilot program, the State Board of Examiners would be authorized to issue a certificate of eligibility to teaching candidates, including alternate route candidates, who hold the equivalent of a certificate of eligibility or provisional certificate from another state. In addition, selected educator preparation programs would accept certain out-of-state candidates who have not yet completed an approved educator preparation program.
In order to qualify, a candidate must have:
- The equivalent of a certificate of eligibility, provisional certificate or emergency certificate from another state in a subject or grade level also offered in New Jersey;
- Passed a subject-matter test to receive the out-of-state endorsement or passed the appropriate New Jersey subject-matter test;
- Passed a performance assessment approved by the state where the certificate was issued, or the candidate must pass a New Jersey–approved performance assessment; and
- One-year minimum of documented effective teaching experience.
Candidates who have not completed an approved educator preparation program can enroll in a state-approved educator preparation program and complete any remaining college credits or coursework prior to the issuance of a standard instructional certificate. At the end of two years, the bill would require NJDOE to produce a progress report. At the conclusion of the five years of the pilot program, the department would provide a final analysis of the program, including recommendations on whether the program should continue. NJSBA supports the bill.
Bias Training for Arbitrators S-699/A-5245 would require 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.
The Assembly also passed the following bills that now head to the Senate for further consideration:
Student Mental Health Package The following five-bill package, spearheaded by Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, is designed to enhance mental health services and supports for New Jersey students:
A-4433 Creates a grant program to encourage school districts to partner with institutions of higher education to train school-based mental health services providers. School districts that receive a grant under the program would use the funds to create and grow programs and partnerships that train students who are attending graduate school to become school-based mental health services providers.
A-4434 Establishes a Student Wellness Grant Program in the NJDOE. A grant awarded through the program shall be used to support school districts in the provision of school-based mental health clinics or workshops for both students and families that engage the community on universal topics of student wellness and mental health. The grant could also be used to implement and coordinate policies, practices, and programs that support the mental, emotional, and social needs of students. The grant would cover mental health services on-site at the school to students in need of short-term counseling or crisis intervention focused on mental health or situational concerns, such as grief or family transitions, by a properly trained and licensed mental health professional.
A-4435 Requires the state Department of Children and Families to give priority to certain school districts with student mental health counseling centers in awarding grants under the School-Based Youth Services Program. The center or other entity shall be separate from, but integrated into, a school within the applicant school district; open for students to visit clinical mental health professionals during, before, and after school hours; and staffed by clinical mental health professionals who are school district employees and provide mental health counseling services to students.
A-4436 Establishes a “Student Mental Health Task Force” to identify and study resources available to schools and parents to address student mental health needs. The bill requires that local boards of education have representation on the task force.
A-4437 This bill would permit a student assistance coordinator, school counselor, school psychologist or other mental health professional working in a school district to refer a student to a private individual licensed to provide professional counseling for mental health assessments and services.
The NJSBA supports the package. During committee deliberations, the NJSBA testified that one in five students in the nation were already struggling with a mental health condition before the COVID-19 pandemic led to a public health emergency and a shutdown of the schools in the state. Meanwhile, the pandemic led to nationwide school closures and social isolation and placed additional stress on many students and their families. These mental health struggles persist even as society as a whole, and schools in particular, continue to search for a way to stay open safely. With a significant number of students across all grade levels already receiving critical mental health services and support in a school setting, school personnel will continue to play a vital role in early intervention efforts. Faculty and staff are uniquely positioned to identify early signs of any mental health issues a student may be experiencing.
This package reflects many of the recommendations in NJSBA’s October 2019 report, Building a Foundation for Hope. That year-long research project emphasized the importance of school-based programs, collaboration with higher education and community organizations, parental involvement, and professional development to build educators’ awareness of their role in addressing student mental health and social-emotional learning. The NJSBA commends Assembly Majority Leader Greenwald for his leadership on this critical issue, and thanks both him and his staff for their diligent work and consultation with NJSBA during the development of these important measures.
Robotics PILOT A-2455 directs the Commissioner of Education to establish a three-year pilot program that provides grant funding to encourage and support school districts to establish the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) nonprofit organization’s robotics programs and to participate in a FIRST Robotics Competition. The purpose of the pilot program is to motivate students to pursue education and career opportunities in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). NJSBA supports the bill.
Diversity and Inclusion Instruction Measure Now Law
Also on Monday, Gov. Murphy signed into law legislation (A-4454/S-2781) that requires school districts to include instruction on diversity and inclusion as part of the implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards. Under the bill, instruction would:
- Highlight and promote diversity, including economic diversity, equity, inclusion, tolerance, and belonging in connection with gender and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, disabilities, and religious tolerance;
- Examine the impact that unconscious bias and economic disparities have at both an individual level and on society as a whole; and
- Encourage safe, welcoming, and inclusive environments for all students regardless of race or ethnicity, sexual and gender identities, mental and physical disabilities, socioeconomic status, and religious beliefs.
Under the law, which becomes applicable in the 2021-2022 school year, the New Jersey Commissioner of Education will provide districts with sample learning activities and resources designed to promote diversity and inclusion.
Committee Action The following Assembly committees met last Wednesday, Feb. 24, and advanced various bills being actively tracked by NJSBA:
Assembly Education Committee
- Placing a renewed emphasis on a supportive school climate and culture as a means to combat HIB.
- Creating the funded position of school climate state coordinator in the NJDOE to serve as a “one–stop shop” for HIB information and resources for parents, students, and school staff. The office will also coordinate and collaborate with law enforcement and other agencies on HIB efforts.
- Preserving the board’s role in HIB oversight and parental appeals.
- Requiring funding for the “Bullying Prevention Fund.” The fund shall be used to offer grants to school districts to provide training on harassment, intimidation, and bullying prevention and on the effective creation of positive school climates, and to help fund related personnel expenses.
NJSBA supports the bill as amended and released by the committee. The bill, which has already passed the full Senate, now heads to the full Assembly for consideration. A copy of the joint letter submitted by the NJSBA along with several other education organizations can be found here.
Remote Instruction Training A-4859 requires teacher certification candidates to have completed a course on virtual or remote education. The course will include:
- revising curriculum for an online platform;
- the most effective tools available for content delivery;
- creating opportunities for student engagement and discussion;
- building and sustaining community and connection with, and among, students; and
- delivering assessments online and monitoring academic progress.
The course content will be approved by NJDOE. NJSBA supports this bill, which has been referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for additional consideration.
Professional Development on Remote Learning A-5007 requires boards of education to ensure teachers and school leaders complete professional development regarding virtual or remote learning. The content of the professional development will be developed by NJDOE, which will make a list of recommended professional development programs available on its website. NJSBA has not taken a position on this bill, but continues to monitor it. The bill has been referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for additional consideration.
Assembly Appropriations Committee
Alleviating Learning Loss Grant Program A-5147 would establish the “Alleviating Learning Loss in New Jersey Grant Program” in the NJDOE to assist public schools in establishing or expanding certain educational programs to address learning loss in students. The purpose of the grant program would be to provide funds to school districts, charter schools, and renaissance schools for the creation or expansion of summer learning programs during the summer of 2021 and other student support programs during the 2021-2022 school year, which seek to mitigate student learning loss resulting from COVID-19-related school closures or the use of virtual or remote instruction. NJSBA supports the bill.
Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee
Energy Efficiency Stimulus Program S-3033/A-4819 will, among other things, help schools upgrade their water and ventilation systems to better protect the health of students, educators and workers. Through this bill, the “School & Small Business Energy Efficiency Stimulus Program” would provide resources ensuring heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems in schools are upgraded to improve the health and safety of the environment and to allow safe operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The program will also fund improvements to old, inefficient plumbing fixtures that waste water and energy. The program would be funded through grants from the “Societal Benefits Charge,” an existing surcharge on the energy bills of New Jersey’s seven investor-owned electric public utilities and gas public utilities. This legislation also requires carbon dioxide monitors be installed in every classroom. At NJSBA’s urging, the bill was amended to ensure the costs for this new mandate will be paid for through the grant program.
The bill may now be posted for an Assembly floor vote. If passed, the bill will return to the Senate, which passed an earlier version of the measure, to concur with amendments made in the Assembly. NJSBA supports the bill.