Over the past week, several Assembly and Senate committees met remotely and considered education-related proposals. The following provides a rundown of measures receiving approval that would impact New Jersey public school districts.

Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee (Monday, March 22)

The committee approved the following bills, both of which are scheduled for votes by the full Senate on Thursday, March 25. From there, they will head to the Assembly.

Special Ed Services for 21+ Students  S-3434 This bill would extend the age eligibility for special education and related services by requiring boards of education to provide the services included in a student’s individualized education program (IEP) for those who reach the age of 21 during the 2020-2021 school year, the 2021-2022 school year, and the 2022-2023 school year.

During committee deliberations, while supporting its intent, NJSBA raised several concerns about the bill. However, those concerns have now been mitigated because the initiative will be funded through federal funds provided from the recent stimulus packages.  Furthermore, any remaining expenses of local districts will be paid for by the state through the Property Tax Relief Fund.

School District Regionalization  S-3488 establishes criteria for state-funded regionalization studies, increases flexibility on regionalization cost apportionment, bars any regionalization that would encourage segregation, and provides financial incentives for districts losing state aid because of declining enrollment. The districts would be encouraged to regionalize because the schedule for their  Adjustment Aid cuts would be extended. S-3488 establishes an eight-year phase-out of Adjustment Aid cuts — stretched out from the current four years — for districts participating in a LEAP (Local Efficiency Achievement Program), a regionalization study that continues if the districts involved elect to implement a regionalization plan. Through 2028-2029, newly established K-12 regional districts would receive the greater of the state aid to which the newly established district would be entitled, or the sum of the aid of the consolidated districts, including the eight-year Adjustment Aid phase-out. Most importantly, S-3488 ensures that the final decision to move forward with any regionalization plan remains subject to voter approval – a key priority of the NJSBA.

NJSBA supports the bill because it represents a voluntary, incentive-based opportunity for districts to explore regionalization and determine if it would be beneficial to their students and their communities.

Assembly Education Committee  (Wednesday, March 17)

Assessment Waiver A-5374 directs the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) to formally request a waiver of student academic assessment requirements from the federal government for the 2020-2021 school year. Currently, the assessments have been delayed until April. The NJDOE is already actively pursuing a waiver from the administration of assessments this spring. NJSBA supports the bill as well as the department’s waiver request.

Student Journalists’ Rights  A-169/S-108 concerns the speech rights of student journalists at public schools and public institutions of higher education.  This bill requires school districts to adopt a policy giving student journalists greater rights over the news, opinion, feature, and advertising content of school-sponsored media. NJSBA expressed concerns about the bill because it was not needed and current law and policy provide sufficient guidance.  The bill gives greater rights to a certain set of students based on the extra-curricular activity that they are involved in, when no other students get to enjoy these rights.  The legislation also goes against long-standing U.S. Supreme Court precedent and does not provide enough liability protections for the board and its employees. The bill may be posted for an Assembly floor vote. If approved, it will return to the Senate, which passed a previous version of the bill. The NJSBA’s position statement on the bill can be found here.

Civics Instruction A-3394/S-854 Under the bill, known as “Laura Wooten’s Law,” beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, each board of education is required to provide a course of study about the values and principles underlying the American system of constitutional democracy, the function and limitations of government, and the role of a citizen in a democratic society.  The course is to be taken by all pupils in an appropriate middle school grade.  The course of study must include a minimum of two quarters of instruction, or the equivalent. The measure has already passed the full Senate and now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Remote Learning Pilot A-4789 establishes the “Safe and Equitable Remote Learning Pilot Program” in the NJDOE to support provision of remote learning safe havens by certain school districts. The program would support the remote learning safe havens in eligible districts, including the Camden City School District, the Newark City School District, the Passaic City School District, the Paterson City School District, and the Trenton City School District. NJSBA supports the bill, which will next go before the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Community Schools Pilot Program A-1055 establishes a five-year Community Schools Pilot Program. The program would be managed by an in-state nonprofit organization selected by NJDOE. That organization would provide group training sessions and information about community schools available to any district interested in establishing a community school. Additionally, the organization would be responsible for selecting up to 50 schools, including charter schools, that would receive direct assistance from a site coordinator assigned to the school.

NJDOE will select two outside entities to supervise the managing organization: a financial firm that will annually audit the program and an independent entity to conduct an evaluation of the pilot program.

This program is anticipated to cost $26 million over the five-year period. Funding would be provided both through monies appropriated by the Legislature as well as private contributions. NJSBA supports this bill.

Easing Substitute Teacher Requirements S-2832/A-5295 allows college students who have accumulated at least 30 college credits (sophomores and beyond) and are at least 20 years old to serve as substitute teachers up until June 30, 2023. The current standard is 60 credits (juniors and beyond). Under the bill, NJDOE would provide a final report by no later than June 30, 2024 as to whether the 30-credit standard should be allowed to continue. Additionally, the bill increases the coverage provided by substitute teachers by extending the amount of time those individuals may teach in the same classroom during public health emergencies.

NJSBA was able to have language inserted clarifying school districts may establish additional criteria for substitute teachers within their district. NJSBA supports the bill.

Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee

Marijuana Offenses & Parental Notification A-5472 requires law enforcement to provide written notice to the parent or guardian of a minor purchasing or possessing alcoholic or cannabis. Recently enacted legislation legalizing cannabis had laid out a written warning system for minors found in possession of cannabis. However, parents or guardians were not to be notified until the second and subsequent violations. This bill addresses parental notification for first offenses. NJSBA supports this bill. A-5472 and its Senate counterpart, S-3565, are both scheduled for floor votes on Thursday, March 25.

Assembly Appropriations Committee

Pilot Program for SEL in Early Elementary YearsS-2486/A-4264 establishes a five-year Clayton Model Pilot Program in the Department of Education to provide a social emotional learning program to elementary school students attending selected public schools.  The pilot program would be based on the Clayton Model, which is a responsive, trauma-informed intervention program for student development that was created by the Clayton School District in Gloucester County. Under the bill, the New Jersey Commissioner of Education would select three counties to participate in the pilot program: (1) one county to represent the northern area; (2) one county to represent the central area; and (3) Gloucester County to represent the southern area of the state.  After each county is selected, the commissioner, in collaboration with the Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs at Rutgers University-Camden, would select a maximum of 10 schools within each county to participate in the pilot program. NJSBA supports the bill which now heads to the full Assembly for consideration. If approved, it heads back to the Senate, which unanimously approved an earlier version of the bill in August, to concur with Assembly amendments.

Energy Efficiency Stimulus ProgramS-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. NJSBA supports the bill.

Renewable and Efficient Energy Financing ProgramA-1976 establishes the Renewable and Efficient Energy Financing Program, in which school districts would be eligible to participate. The program would be funded at up to $20 million annually. Improvements that would qualify for funding through the program would include insulation; storm windows or doors; caulking, weather-stripping, or other window and door system modifications or improvements that reduce energy consumption; automated or computerized energy control systems; energy efficient heating, ventilation, or air conditioning systems; energy efficient lighting systems; on-site solar energy systems or other renewable energy systems; energy recovery systems; cogeneration or combined heat and power systems. NJSBA supports this bill.