On May 16 and May 20, several legislative committees convened at the State House and advanced bills affecting New Jersey’s public school districts and students.  The Legislature has entered one the busiest times of the year and will be meeting regularly over the next several weeks as it approaches the June 30 deadline to pass a state budget.

The following provides a rundown of education-related bills that were approved by committees over the last week:

Assembly Appropriations Committee

NJSBA-Opposed Anti-Subcontracting MeasureA-3395 concerns subcontracting agreements entered into by public school districts and county colleges. The bill, which the NJSBA has long opposed, would severely impede a board of education’s ability to effectively manage staff and resources by making it much more difficult to subcontract for various non-instructional services.  Taken together, the burdensome and costly provisions of A-3395 would severely inhibit the ability of a board of education to subcontract services.

Unfortunately, the bill was released by the committee by a vote of 8-2.  Casting the only two votes against releasing the bill from committee were Assemblyman Jay Webber (LD26) and Assemblyman Hal Wirths (LD24).  Prior to casting his vote, Assemblyman Webber stated:

“If we’re not, in this body, doing everything we can to cut property taxes, we’re doing the wrong things.  If school boards can find a way to save their taxpayers a little bit of money, we should enable them to do it. To the extent that school boards can funnel more money into classrooms, and if they can save money on non-instructional operations, we should do that. So, I see this bill as doing a disservice to both taxpayers and students.”

The Association agrees wholeheartedly with this sentiment and appreciates the Assemblyman’s recognition that this measure will only serve to increase school district costs, and potentially property taxes, without providing any educational benefit to our students.

Specifically, A-3395 imposes the following conditions and requirements on any school district considering the subcontracting of non-instructional services and personnel, such as paraprofessionals, food services, pupil transportation, custodial services, building and grounds:

  • Makes the employer’s decision to subcontract a mandatory subject of negotiations;
  • Prohibits subcontracting during the term that a collective bargaining agreement is in effect;
  • Requires the employer to provide written notice to any union that may be impacted by the decision to subcontract at least 90 days prior to soliciting bids for a subcontracting agreement;
  • Provides the union the right to meet and consult with the board of education to discuss the decision to subcontract and the opportunity to engage in negotiations over the impact of subcontracting; and
  • Grants any employee replaced or displaced by the subcontracting agreement any previously acquired seniority and recall rights whenever the subcontracting ends.

The NJSBA believes the decision to subcontract a service is – and must remain – a non-negotiable, managerial prerogative so that boards of education can effectively and efficiently manage their resources and quickly respond to a fiscal emergency. The lengthy negotiations, notice and arbitration requirements would impede a district’s ability to use subcontracting to respond to a budget crisis and effectively makes the subcontracting option no option at all.

In testimony before the committee, the NJSBA argued that students and taxpayers would be harmed by the requirements imposed by A-3395.  By essentially taking the subcontracting option off the table, boards of education will be forced to consider other alternatives to balance their budgets, such as cuts in programs and services, teacher layoffs, tax increases, or some combination of the three.  Furthermore, with the recent changes to the school funding formula that will result in reductions in state aid for approximately one-third of the state’s school districts, it is critical that districts have the tools they need to maintain New Jersey’s status as having one the best educational systems in the nation. Subcontracting has a proven track record of success and is therefore a financial management tool that must remain available and viable to our members.

Some form of this legislation has been pending for roughly 30 years.  The NJSBA has consistently opposed previous iterations and will continue to aggressively advocate against the bill’s enactment. Other organizations joining the NJSBA in opposition include the Garden State Coalition of Schools, the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools, the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials, the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey, the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, and the New Jersey Association of Counties.

Student Eye Exam RequirementA-4310/S-2804 directs the State Board of Education to require each child age 6 and under who is entering a public preschool, public school, or a Head Start Program for the first time to have a comprehensive eye examination completed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist by January 1 of the child’s initial year of enrollment in the school or program.  The Department of Health will maintain a list of resources from which a parent or guardian may obtain a free or reduced price comprehensive eye examination.  The list will be posted on the Department of Health’s website and will be provided to each public preschool, public school, and Head Start Program.   A principal, director, or other person in charge of a public preschool, public school, or Head Start Program must collect from the child’s parent or guardian evidence of the child’s comprehensive eye examination, as provided by regulation of the State Board.  A comprehensive eye examination that was performed no more than one year prior to a child’s initial enrollment in a public preschool, public school, or Head Start Program will satisfy the requirements under the bill. NJSBA supports the bill.

Assembly Education Committee

The committee held a hearing to receive testimony from invited guests on the topic of teacher shortages in the state in the areas of subject matter, certification, and diversity within the teaching profession.  The committee also released the following bills, each of which have already passed the Senate and may proceed to a vote by the full Assembly.  They all have the support of NJSBA.

NJQSAC and State Takeover Districts A-657/S-691 provides that in the case of a school district under partial or full state intervention, the state must withdraw from intervention in an area of school district effectiveness in which the district has satisfied 80% or more of the quality performance indicators under the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJQSAC) in that area.  The bill provides further that the education commissioner and the State Board of Education may not use any other factor in making the determination to withdraw from an area of school district effectiveness if the district meets or exceeds the 80 percent threshold.

Enrolling Immigrant StudentsA-4956/S-2980  states that a school district may not condition student enrollment in a district on the fact that the N.J. Motor Vehicle Commission (NJMVC) does not have the name or address of a parent or guardian on file. Under current law, in the case of a dispute between a school district and a parent or guardian in regard to a student’s right to enroll or remain enrolled in the district based on domicile in the district, the school district may request from the NJMVC the parent or guardian’s name and address for use in verifying the student’s eligibility for enrollment.  The law stipulates that a school district may not condition enrollment in the district on immigration status.

A related bill, A-5324/S-2982, would clarify that a child may not be excluded from public school based on membership in a protected category under the “Law Against Discrimination” or immigration status.

Commission on Latino and Hispanic HeritageA-4995/S-3327 establishes the Commission on Latino and Hispanic Heritage within the N.J. Department of Education. The purpose of the commission is to survey, design, encourage, and promote the implementation of Latino and Hispanic cultural and educational programs in this state.

Assembly Women and Children’s Committee

“Safe Haven” Instruction  A-1380/S-1126 requires public school districts with high school students to provide instruction on “New Jersey Safe Haven Infant Protection Act” as part of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards. That law allows an individual to give up an unwanted infant safely, legally and anonymously. NJSBA supports the bill, which would go into effect in the 2019-2020 school, if enacted.

Campaign Funds & Child CareA-4507/S-2943 explicitly includes within the definition of “campaign expenses” payment for child care expenses incurred by a candidate after the effective date of the bill that were incurred as the direct result of campaign activity. The bill grants authority to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission to determine when child care expenses are incurred as the direct result of campaign activity.

Assembly Labor Committee

The committee approved a package of bills aimed at making apprenticeships more accessible for New Jersey residents.  The 2018 report of the NJSBA’s Task Force on Educational Opportunities for the Non-College-Bound Learner stressed that students should be exposed to the wide array of careers available to them and the multiple pathways to a successful career.  These pathways include earning job-specific professional certification and two-year degrees, as well as experience in apprenticeship and internships. The task force emphasized that students should have a broad range of post-secondary education, training, and career opportunities in addition to enrolling in a four-year college.  Therefore, the NJSBA supports the following measures:

A-4604/S-3066 establishes a five-year High-Growth Industry Regional Apprenticeship Development Grant Pilot Program.  The program, administered by the Office of Apprenticeship, provides grants to help fund three newly-established and federally-approved apprenticeship programs in high-growth industries: one each in the northern, central and southern regions of the state.  High-growth industries are defined as including advanced manufacturing; construction and utilities; financial services; life sciences; technology; transportation; logistics; distribution; information technology; renewable energy; and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Local education agencies and public vocational schools are included among the types of organizations that will be eligible for the grants.

A-4655/S-3063 requires public institutions of higher education to waive the tuition fees of certain courses which are qualified to serve as the classroom training or education component of a registered apprenticeship for eligible persons whose gross aggregate household income is below the state’s median annual income.

A-4656/S-3064 establishes, in the State Employment and Training Commission, a Task Force to Develop a Statewide Plan to Diversify Apprenticeships. The task force would develop a plan to diversify apprenticeships including industry-specific recommendations for affirmative action plans to increase diversity in apprenticeship programs.  The development of the plan is to be based on the demographics of the state and data on historically under-represented groups, including groups designated by gender, race, and disability status.

A-4829/S-3068 requires the New Jersey labor commissioner, in consultation with the education commissioner, and the chief diversity officer of New Jersey, to establish a peer-to-peer statewide apprenticeship mentoring program for women, minorities, and people with disabilities.

Assembly State and Local Government

Electronic BiddingA-1308/S-3137 would require local government contracting units, including boards of education, to use an electronic procurement process for any construction contracts valued at more than $5 million. The bill also requires state agencies to utilize such a process for all public works construction projects that require public advertisement, regardless of a project’s value. If approved in its current form, the bill would go into effect one year following enactment.

The NJSBA has consistently advocated for the passage of legislation that promotes the use of technology to help government run more efficiently. In recent years, the NJSBA strongly supported a measure that would permit boards of education and other local governing bodies to take advantage of electronic bidding processes for the procurement of goods and services. The governor signed that legislation into law in December 2018 and it will go into effect this coming October.

In testimony before the committee, NJSBA staff expressed overall support for the bill’s intent to streamline and modernize government purchasing procedures.  However, the NJSBA expressed some concern regarding the mandatory nature of A-1308/S-3137 and has requested that the use of electronic bidding remain permissive at this time. The Association is urging the Legislature to provide boards of education with financial and technical support to facilitate compliance with any new requirement so that it would not unduly burden school district finances or operations. Productive discussions with the bills’ sponsors are ongoing and will continue as the legislation advances.

Enhancing SHBP/SEHBP OversightA-4619/S-3042 aims to save on health care costs by increasing oversight of the third-party administrators (TPAs) of the State Health Benefits Program (SHBP) and School Employees Health Benefits Program (SEHBP). Among other provisions, the bill requires the state to procure a third-party medical claims reviewer for the SHBP and the SEHBP. The third party medical claims reviewer will provide regular, frequent, ongoing review and oversight of the claims process, and will maintain a secure archive of medical claims and other health services payment data. NJSBA supports the bill.

Senate Economic Growth

Electric School Bus PilotS-2436 requires the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to establish a three-year “Electric School Bus Pilot Program.” The pilot program is to determine the operational reliability and cost effectiveness of replacing diesel-powered school buses with electric school buses for daily transportation of students.  The bill requires the BPU to select at least three school districts for participation in the pilot program: one each from the northern, central and southern regions of the state. Up to $10 million from the revenues of the societal benefits charge would be provided to pilot program participants to purchase electric school buses and to install electric school bus charging infrastructure. The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration of its fiscal impact.

Senate Environment and Energy Committee

Improving Drinking Water QualitySCR-156, a nonbinding resolution, strongly urges the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to adopt drinking water standards for 16 hazardous contaminants, as recommended by the Drinking Water Quality Institute (DWQI). NJSBA supports the resolution.

Assembly Judiciary Committee

Liability Standards in Sexual Abuse Lawsuits  A-5392 This bill establishes new liability standards in sexual abuse lawsuits filed against public entities and public employees. These new standards are identical to the liability standards applied to non-profit organizations, and their officers, employees and other agents, based on exceptions to the immunity granted to such organizations and agents under the Charitable Immunity Act. Under the bill, a public entity or public employee could be held liable for willful, wanton or grossly negligent acts resulting in a sexual assault, or any other crime of a sexual nature. A public entity could be held liable for a claim that its negligent hiring, supervision or retention of any public employee resulted in any such form of sexual abuse being committed against a minor under the age of 18 years. The bill now heads to the full Assembly for consideration.