On Monday, March 5, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee met and approved three NJSBA-tracked bills that were released by the Senate Education Committee last month. The following measures may now be posted for a floor vote by the full Senate:

Combatting Chronic Absenteeism  S-1876 requires that, if 10 percent or more of the students enrolled in a public school are chronically absent, the school must develop a corrective action plan to improve absenteeism rates. The bill requires that in developing the corrective action plan, the school must solicit input from parents through multiple means, including through administration of a survey, engaging with the school’s parent organization, and, if the school does not have a parent organization, holding a public meeting to provide parents with the opportunity to provide input. The bill requires the school to present its corrective action plan to the board of education. The school would review and revise the plan annually, and present the revisions to the board, until the percent of students who are chronically absent is less than 10 percent.

The bill requires the New Jersey Commissioner of Education to include data on the School Report Cards  on the number and percentage of students who were chronically absent and the number and percentage of students who received a disciplinary suspension. Bill S-1876 also directs the commissioner to review the chronic absenteeism rates of each school and school district annually, and report on the rates to the State Board of Education.

NJSBA is monitoring the legislation, which was “pocket vetoed” by Gov. Chris Christie at the end of the previous legislative session.

Breakfast After the Bell  S-1894 requires a “Breakfast After the Bell” program in all schools with 70 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. 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 those 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 such a program. Any plan is 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.

Numerous studies document that childhood hunger impedes learning and can cause lifelong health problems. In New Jersey, tens of thousands of children suffer from hunger each year, with nearly 540,000 students living in families eligible to receive free or low-cost school meals.

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.

Summer Meal Programs  S-1897 expands summer meal programs to all school districts in which 50 percent or more of the 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.

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