On Tuesday, May 14 Gov. Phil Murphy approved legislation that will restore a portion of the school aid cuts some school districts will experience under the fiscal year 2025 state budget proposal. It will also grant property tax levy cap flexibility to districts that have witnessed an overall decline in state aid in recent budget cycles. The bills were sent to his desk by the Legislature the day before. The governor also signed legislation that will permit districts to submit their budgets after the state approves the fiscal year 2025 appropriations act. More details follow below.

State Aid Restorations and Tax Cap Flexibility A-4161/S-3081 establishes the “Stabilized School Budget Aid Grant Program.” Funded with a state appropriation of approximately $44.7 million, the program provides any district experiencing an aid loss in fiscal year 2025 with an aid grant equal to 45% of the amount of the district’s proposed school aid reduction. This partial restoration of aid will be automatic and not subject to any conditions. Districts do not need to apply to the New Jersey Department of Education to receive it. (Note: A previous version of the bill would have restored two-thirds of the amount of each district’s funding reduction for fiscal year 2025 through an appropriation of approximately $71 million.)

The bill no longer includes a provision that would permit districts experiencing a state aid reduction in fiscal year 2025 to recoup the balance of their fiscal year 2025 state aid losses by exceeding the maximum permissible amount under the statutory tax levy cap law (i.e., the “2% cap”) without voter approval. However, they may still be able to take advantage of the tax cap flexibility described below for districts receiving less aid in fiscal year 2025 than they received in fiscal year 2021.

Unlike a previous version of the bill, A-4161/S-3081 no longer includes any provision prohibiting any district receiving an aid grant from reducing the total number of employees in the district in the upcoming school year. Boards of education will retain the authority to make any necessary adjustments to personnel as is currently permitted.

The measure also provides property tax levy cap relief around the 2% cap that limits the ability of districts to raise funds at the local level to support their schools. This relief is available to any district that experienced a reduction in state school aid in the 2024-2025 school year compared to the amount it received in the 2020-2021 school year. These districts will be able to increase their levy beyond the maximum permissible amount, but no more than the amount of the difference between the amount of aid allocated to the district in 2020-2021 and the amount allocated to the district in the 2024-2025 school year. However, districts will not be able to raise their tax levy more than 9.9% of the levy for the current budget year. Voter approval is not required for districts taking advantage of this cap flexibility.

The bill explicitly grants the commissioner of education the authority to adjust the timeframe by which a district that takes advantage of this tax cap flexibility must submit its final budget to the NJDOE. A board of education that has already certified its adjusted tax levy will be able to recertify its levy to the county board of taxation.

The New Jersey School Boards Association supported the bill and worked closely with the sponsors, staff and other education stakeholders throughout the legislative process. While the Association urged additional aid restoration, this legislation should help mitigate the negative impact that the initially proposed school aid cuts would have had on the ability of districts to retain staff and maintain critical programs and services. The NJSBA continues to urge the Legislature and the Murphy administration to conduct a thorough evaluation of the school funding formula, in collaboration with all interested stakeholders, and make adjustments as necessary to ensure all districts can provide a high-quality education.

“The New Jersey School Boards Association thanks Governor Murphy, Senate President Scutari, Speaker Coughlin and the Legislature for approving this essential measure, which provides school districts across the state with tools and resources to maintain critical staff, programs and services,” said Dr. Timothy Purnell, executive director and CEO of the NJSBA. “The school aid restorations and property tax cap flexibility provided under A-4161/S-3081 will help these districts provide their students with the high-quality education they deserve. We would particularly like to extend our gratitude to the lead sponsors – Senators Zwicker and Gopal, Assemblyman Freiman, and Assemblywomen Drulis, Lampitt and Katz – for their leadership on this issue and their steadfast commitment to the state’s public school students. While this relief is certainly welcome, we recognize that even more work lies ahead, and we must remain laser focused on the matter of how we fund our schools. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with the Murphy administration and the Legislature as they continue to evaluate the school funding formula to make necessary adjustments to guarantee all of New Jersey’s  students receive a thorough and efficient education.”

Upon approving the measure, Murphy also issued a signing statement directing the commissioner of education to conduct a comprehensive review assessing the responsible utilization of the additional funding by school districts. Click here to view the signing statement for A-4161/S-3081.

Delaying Budget Submissions The governor also signed a measure, A-4059/S-3002, that will give districts receiving state aid reductions this year additional time to finalize their budgets.  The measure requires the commissioner of education to permit school districts losing school aid to submit their budgets after enactment of the state fiscal year 2025 appropriations act.  The commissioner will also be authorized to make any adjustments to the school budget calendar that are necessary to conform with the bill, including a compressed schedule by which a district can enact its budget.

The bill only applies to districts that are proposed to receive a school aid reduction that is greater than the total amount of the district’s unused tax authority permitted under current law (i.e., “banked cap”).  Under current law, a school district may add to its adjusted tax levy in any one of the next three succeeding budget years, the amount of the difference between the maximum allowable amount to be raised by taxation for the current school budget year and the actual amount to be raised by taxation for the current school budget year.  The NJSBA supported the legislation, which is permissive and only applies to the 2024-2025 school year.

Voting Sessions

Both the Senate and General Assembly held voting sessions on Monday, May 13 and considered various bill affecting local school districts.

Evaluation Review Task Force and Temporary SGO Relief S-2082/A-3413 would establish the New Jersey Educator Evaluation Review Task Force to study and evaluate the educator evaluation system established pursuant to the TEACHNJ Act and implemented in New Jersey public schools.

The task force is to examine the educator evaluation process, gather data, evaluate the data and make recommendations concerning the annual evaluation process for teachers, principals, assistant principals and vice principals established pursuant to the TEACHNJ Act. The task force is to consist of 13 members who have a background in, or special knowledge of, the legal, policy and administrative aspects of educator evaluation in New Jersey. The members are to include:

  • One member appointed by the president of the Senate.
  • One member appointed by the speaker of the General Assembly.
  • One member appointed by the governor.
  • Three representatives of the New Jersey Education Association.
  • Three representatives of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.
  • One representative appointed by the New Jersey School Boards Association.
  • One representative appointed by the New Jersey Association of School Administrators.
  • One representative appointed by the Garden State Coalition of Schools.
  • One representative appointed by the American Federation of Teachers.

The task force is to consider the law in the current context of the state’s schools, identify areas for improvement and make any recommendations regarding any appropriate changes or updates to the law or regulations implementing the law. The task force is to issue a final report of its findings and recommendations to the governor and the Legislature no later than Sept. 30, 2024. The department is to make the final report available to the public on its website.

Additionally, the bill clarifies that student growth data used for the purposes of educator evaluations is data collected in the most recent year in which an educator completed student growth objectives. Under the bill, teachers are not to collect new student growth observation data in the 2024-2025 school year, and are instead to use, for the purposes of educator evaluations, existing student growth objective data from the most recent year in which the educator completed student growth objectives. For any teacher in their first year of employment in a district, any teacher without a record of pre-existing student growth objectives, or any nontenured teacher, the teacher is to set student growth objectives and collect data pertaining to these objectives during the 2024-2025 school year. Beginning in the 2025-2026 school year, school districts are to implement guidelines for the collection of student growth objective data consistent with any law, rule, or regulation enacted as a result of the findings of the task force.

The NJSBA supports the bill, which has now passed both houses of the Legislature.

OPRA Reform S-2930/A-4045 makes various changes to the process to access government records and appropriates $10 million.  The amendments will increase flexibility for records custodians and further protect citizens’ information from unwarranted disclosure.

Key provisions of the legislation include:

  • The bill clarifies that a public agency has a responsibility and an obligation to safeguard from public access a citizen’s personal information with which it has been entrusted, or information that might reasonably lead to disclosure of a person’s personal information, when disclosure thereof would violate the citizen’s reasonable expectation of privacy, or when the public agency has reason to believe that disclosure of such personal information may result in harassment, unwanted solicitation, identity theft, or opportunities for other criminal acts.
  • Requests for records for “commercial purposes” will have to be fulfilled within 14 days, rather than seven days as it is for other requests.
  • If an agency has the requested records on its website, the agency can fulfill the request by directing the requestor to the specific webpage where the record can be found. Under the bill, agencies will have an obligation to post records to their websites, “to the extent feasible.”
  • If a special service fee for a record must be charged, the fee must be reasonable; an explanation must be provided to the requestor with an itemized list of the fees or charges for that record. Custodians will no longer be under an obligation to provide the document in the format requested if the format requires a substantial amount of manipulation or programming of information technology. The custodian must still provide the document in the format used by the agency.
  • Anonymous requests will still be permitted under OPRA. However, an anonymous requestor will not be able to appeal a denial of the records request.
  • Requestors will still be entitled to reimbursement of their attorney’s fees when an agency acts in “bad faith.” In all other instances, reimbursement of attorney fees will be at the discretion of the court or Government Records Council.

The NJSBA supports S-2930/A-4045, which heads to the governor’s desk.

The Senate also approved the following bill that now heads to the Assembly for further consideration:

Police in School Polling Places S-2531 would amend the current law that limits the presence of police officers at polling places, including school polling places. The bill would authorize police departments to assign plainclothes officers to a school polling place. A school would have to request that a police officer be assigned and notify its district board of election of its request at least seven days before the election.

The bill would further require that, beginning with the first election following enactment of the legislation, each school serving as a polling place develop a security plan to prevent voters from having access to students that the polling place includes. The plan must include a designated voting area that must be locked and separate from the rest of the school if it is in session during the time an election is being held. Under the bill as amended, that requirement will only apply if the school “has the ability to fulfill the mandate.”

The NJSBA supports the bill, as it would provide local boards with the discretion to have police present at school polling places if they so choose.

Senate Environment and Energy Committee

The committee advanced the following bill affecting New Jersey schools:

Promoting “Upcycling” S-1441 establishes a School Plastics Upcycling Grant Program in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to provide awards to eligible schools for upcycling purposes. Under the bill, “upcycling” is defined as the process that is used, by an authorized upcycler, to transform and reconstitute used, useless, or unwanted plastic bags and other plastic products and materials into new and repurposed materials or products of higher value and greater quality.

The purpose of the program would be to annually provide proportional grant funding to each eligible applicant school, consistent with, based on, and in proportion to, each such school’s annual, pro rata share of school-collected plastics. The funding would help enable each school to purchase and acquire school-appropriate furnishings being annually produced, by authorized upcyclers, through the upcycling of school-collected plastics.

The NJSBA supports the bill.

The committee was also scheduled to consider the following bill, but it was held from consideration and is likely to be heard the next time the committee meets:

Banning Single-Use Plastic Utensils S-3195 would prohibit “food service businesses” in New Jersey from providing customers with access to single-use plastic utensils or condiments, except in certain limited cases. As defined in the bill, food service businesses include schools.

Specifically, the bill provides that schools (as well as all the other entities included under the broad definition of food service business) would be prohibited from providing single-use plastic utensils or condiments to any customer, except upon the express request of that customer. In addition, any school with an on-site seating capacity for 50 or more customers will be required to provide its on-site customers with easy access to reusable, washable utensils that may be used while consuming meals on the premises, and which are to be returned to the school, upon completion of the on-site meal, so they can be cleaned and reused. As an alternative to providing reusable utensils, a school would be allowed to provide “eco-friendly alternative utensils and condiments,” including but not limited to those that are compostable or those which are made from plastic or other materials but can be used multiple times. The bill includes progressive penalties for noncompliance.

The NJSBA opposes the bill and sought an amendment to explicitly exempt schools. While supportive of sustainability initiatives, the NJSBA cited various operational and financial concerns with the bill. Among those concerns were the potential physical harm the use of metal utensils could cause to students and staff. The Association also expressed concern about the potential for increased costs associated with procuring eco-friendly products.

To view the full text of any of the bills summarized above, please visit the New Jersey Legislature’s website.