Last week, various Assembly committees met and advanced several pieces of legislation concerning PreK-12 legislation, including the bill to mitigate state aid losses under S-2 and a bill that would expand the scope of allowable uses of sick leave for school district employees, such as to care for an ill family member.
Assembly Appropriations Committee
On March 23, the Assembly Appropriations Committee approved:
Easing State Aid Cuts in Fiscal Year 2024 S-3732/A-5328 offers additional state aid to school districts facing a reduction in state aid as a result of the S-2 law as proposed in the governor’s fiscal year 2024 budget. S-3732 was approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee last week and, in a rare move, sent immediately to the Senate floor on the same day. The bill is scheduled for a vote by the full Assembly on Thursday, March 30; the Senate will then have to approve it again, since it received technical amendments in the Assembly Appropriations Committee after its initial passage by the Senate last week. That final vote by the Senate is also scheduled for March 30. It is expected to clear the Legislature that day and move to the governor’s desk. NJSBA testified in support of the bill last week.
Tuition for Nonresident Students S-3349/A-5327 would require boards of education to charge all nonresident students admitted to the district a uniform tuition amount, with exceptions for county vocational technical schools, children of teaching staff members, certain children of members of the New Jersey National Guard or reserve component of the armed forces (as allowed under current law), or pursuant to any federal law, state law, regulation, or court order governing tuition charges. The bill would require executive county superintendents to approve the uniform tuition amount. The bill passed the full Senate March 20, and now heads to the Assembly floor for further consideration.
Assembly Labor Committee
NJSBA Opposes Bill Expanding Sick Leave Benefits
On March 23, the Assembly Labor Committee approved legislation, A-5060, which would expand the scope of allowable uses of sick leave for school district employees, such as to care for an ill family member. NJSBA testified in opposition to the bill as it legislatively mandates benefits that are currently subject to negotiations.
Under current law (N.J.S.A.18A:30-2), all steadily employed school staff annually receive at least 10 days of sick leave. This leave may be used for personal illness or injury. A-5060 would drastically expand the permissible uses of this statutory paid sick leave. More specifically, the bill would allow employees to use their sick leave for the following reasons:
- Personal illness or injury (Note: Already permitted under existing law).
- Diagnosis, care, or treatment of, or recovery from, a mental or physical illness, injury or other adverse health condition, or for preventive medical care.
- To aid or care for a family member during diagnosis, care, or treatment of, or recovery from, mental or physical illness, injury or other adverse health condition, or during preventive medical care for the family member.
- Absence necessary due to the employee or family member being a victim of domestic or sexual violence, if the leave is to allow the employee or family member to obtain medical or other related services, or to prepare for or participate in related legal proceedings.
- Death of a family member for up to seven days.
- To attend a school-related conference, meeting, function, or other event for a child.
- If the school or place of care of a child of the employee is closed by order of a public official or because of a state of emergency declared by the governor, due to an epidemic or other public health emergency.
In addition, the bill also contains provisions that would make it more difficult for a district to verify that an employee is using paid sick leave for a legitimate purpose. Under current law, districts may (but are not required to) request supporting documentation after a first absence due to illness. This bill would prohibit a district from requesting such documentation until an employee is absent for three consecutive days. The legislation also includes provisions concerning when a board may require advance notice of an absence and the types of reasonable documentation a board may require for use of sick leave.
In its testimony, the NJSBA stressed that it does not necessarily oppose allowing school staff to receive paid leave to care for an ill family member, or for the other reasons set forth in the bill. Rather, the NJSBA argued that these matters should be addressed at the bargaining table – as they have been for decades – and not dictated by law. In addition, many collective bargaining agreements already include provisions providing paid leave for the purposes listed in A-5060.
Disruption to education continuity and the potential financial impact associated with hiring more substitute teachers – already in short supply – were additional concerns cited by NJSBA.
Other organizations joining the NJSBA in opposition included the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials and the Garden State Coalition of Schools.
In many ways, A-5060 mirrors the New Jersey Earned Sick Law. Enacted in 2018, that law requires employers of all sizes to provide workers with up to 40 hours of paid sick time per year to care for themselves or a family member. NJSBA successfully advocated for an exemption for boards of education from that legislation. NJSBA used a similar argument then as it is using on A-5060 today – that school employees have long been afforded paid sick leave for personal use pursuant to statute, while boards of education and unions have mutually agreed to other forms of paid time off through the traditional collective bargaining process. If enacted, A-5060 would disrupt the status quo that strikes an appropriate balance between the interests of boards of education and employees, as well as parents, students and taxpayers.
A copy of NJSBA’s position statement on the bill can be found here.
The bill now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for further consideration. Its Senate counterpart, S-3440, has not moved to date.
Budget Committee Hearings
On March 21 (rescheduled from March 14) and March 27, the Senate Budget and Appropriations and the Assembly Budget Committees met, respectively, to conduct the first of two public hearings that each committee will hold on the governor’s proposed fiscal year 2024 state budget. Additional information can be found in the NJSBA’s March 7 School Board Notes Article “Public Hearings on State Budget Begin Next Week” — and recordings of the hearings may be accessed here.
To view the full text of any of the bills summarized above, please visit the New Jersey Legislature’s website.