On Monday, March 26 both the Senate and General Assembly convened for voting sessions, and advanced several bills impacting local school districts. The Senate approved a package of bills intended to promote student health and nutrition, and also approved the addition of $250 million in school security grants to pending legislation that was originally intended to expand the state’s county vocational technical schools.
Senate Voting Session
Grants for School Security In response to recent nationwide concerns over school shootings, the Senate voted to amend pending legislation, S-2293, to include $250 million to be used for school security grants. Earlier this month, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee advanced the measure, which permits the issuance of $500 million in bonds to fund expansion of the state’s county vocational schools and community colleges. Specifically, it allocates $450 million for grants to county vocational school districts and $50 million for county college career and technical education grants. On Monday, the Senate added $250 million for the school security grants, and inserted a requirement that the state Commissioner of Education develop procedures and criteria for the evaluation and administration of school facility security grants.
These amendments now bring the total bond issue, which would have to be approved by the voters, to $750 million. While there is no matching requirement for the school security grants, the legislation was also amended to require county vocational-technical schools and county colleges to pay for 25 percent of the cost of technical education grant projects. The General Assembly has yet to take up the proposal.
The following education-related measures were approved by the full Senate on Monday and now move to the General Assembly:
Breakfast After the Bell S-1894 requires a “Breakfast After the Bell” program in all schools where 70 percent or more students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program or the federal School Breakfast Program. Breakfast After the Bell programs have been shown to increase student participation in school breakfast programs.
Under current law, which would not change, a school with 5 percent or more of eligible students must have a school lunch program, and a school with 20 percent or more of those eligible students must have a regular school breakfast program.
Each school district would be required to adopt a plan, within a year after the law is enacted, to establish a Breakfast After the Bell program for all grades at each school in the district required to establish a program. Plans are required to be developed by the school district and adopted by the school board. Within six months after the law is enacted, each district is required to notify the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE), of its Breakfast After the Bell plan. Any school district currently providing a school Breakfast After the Bell program would not be required to adopt a new plan, but would have to provide notification to the state agriculture department about its program. The bill also permits a public school to establish a paid Breakfast After the Bell program for students not eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
Under the bill, the state is required to make an appropriation to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture each fiscal year in order to provide the state share for the Breakfast After the Bell program.
Amendments made to the bill during prior committee deliberations clarify the timeline and specify when schools would have to submit their plans and start to implement the breakfast program.
NJSBA supports the current version of the bill.
Non-Participation Report/Community Eligibility Provision S-1895 requires every school district in which there is at least one school that qualifies for the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), but is not implementing it, to report the reasons for nonparticipation in writing to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and the New Jersey Department of Education.
The CEP is a federally-funded reimbursement alternative for eligible, high-poverty local educational agencies and schools participating in both the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. The CEP allows the nation’s highest poverty schools and school districts to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students without collecting individual household applications. NJSBA did not take a public position on the measure.
Meal Denial Reporting S-1896 requires school districts to report quarterly to the state Department of Agriculture the number of students who are denied school breakfast or school lunch; the agriculture department then forwards the information to the NJDOE.
Under current law, if a public school student’s school breakfast or school lunch bill is in arrears, the district must contact the student’s parent or guardian to provide notice of the balance due and provide 10 school days to pay the amount due. If the parent or guardian does not make full payment by the end of 10 school days, the district is to provide a second notice that school breakfast or school lunch, as applicable, will not be served to the student beginning one week from the date of this second notice unless payment is made in full. NJSBA did not take a position on this bill.
Summer Meal Programs S-1897 expands summer meal programs to all school districts in which 50 percent or more of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program or the federal School Breakfast Program. This bill requires such school districts to become a sponsor of the federal Summer Food Service Program.
Each school district would be required, no later than one year after the law is enacted, to submit a plan for sponsorship of the federal Summer Food Service Program. Based on the plan submitted to the state Department of Agriculture, each district would be required to become a sponsor no later than two years following the law’s enactment. The bill permits the department to grant a waiver from the sponsorship requirement to a school district if a different sponsor currently runs the Summer Food Service Program within the same community.
The Summer Food Service Program is the federal program that reimburses sponsors for the administrative and operational costs to provide meals for children 18 years of age and younger during periods when they are out of school for 15 or more consecutive school days. The program is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and administered by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.
Locally, approved sponsors, including school districts, run the Summer Food Service Program. Each sponsor provides free meals to a group of children at a central site such as a school or a community center. The Summer Food Service Program is the single largest federal resource available for local sponsors who want to combine a feeding program with a summer activity program.
NJSBA supports the bill.
Joint Petitions and Bracketing for School Elections S-868 would permit candidates for a board of education to circulate a nominating petition jointly and to be bracketed together on the ballot. Under the bill, two or more candidates could sign or circulate, or both sign and circulate, a joint petition of nomination for the same term. When two or more such candidates also wish to be bracketed together on a ballot, they must first so notify the secretary of the board of education in writing prior to the drawing for position on the ballot. The candidates who are bracketed together will share a position on the ballot as a group and have their names printed together in the appropriate location on the ballot. The legislation would also permit a short nonpolitical designation of the candidates’ principles on their nominating petitions and on the ballot.
The legislation now goes to the Assembly, which has yet to take up its lower house counterpart, A-2030.
Similar measures have been approved by the Legislature in recent years, but none of them obtained the governor’s signature. Most recently, then-Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed legislation in July 2017 that would have permitted joint nominating petitions and bracketing for school board candidates citing concerns that the bracketing of the candidates and the use of a three-word designation may politicize school elections. However, the governor did leave the issue open for further study and deliberation by recommending that a pilot program be established that would allow candidates in one school election in each county to circulate petitions jointly and be bracketed together under a designation. Read more here.
General Assembly Voting Session
The General Assembly advanced the following bills:
Child Trafficking AwarenessA-1428 establishes a “Child Trafficking Awareness Pilot Program” in the N.J. Department of Education to train school district staff about warning signs and how to prevent child trafficking. NJSBA supports the legislation.
Computer Science EndorsementA-2193 directs the State Board of Education to authorize a computer science education endorsement to the instructional certificate. The endorsement would authorize the holder to teach computer science in all public schools, and would be required to teach computer science in grades 9-12 beginning at such time as the State Board determines that there are a sufficient number of teachers holding the computer science education endorsement to make the requirement feasible. The bill includes a grandfather provision that permits a teacher to be issued a computer science education endorsement upon application to the State Board of Examiners, if the person is teaching computer science within the three years prior to when the State Board requires a computer science education endorsement to teach computer science.