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The following provides a summary of any noteworthy education-related activity at the State House over the past week.

Bills Signed Into Law

On Friday, May 17, Gov. Phil Murphy signed the following bill into law:

Evaluation Review Task Force S-2082/A-3413 (P.L.2024, c.14) establishes 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 will 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 will 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 will 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 will 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 will issue a final report of its findings and recommendations to the governor and the Legislature no later than Sept. 30, 2024. The final report will be made available to the public on the New Jersey Department of Education website.

Additionally, the measure 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 law, 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 SGO data from the most recent year in which the educator completed SGOs. For any teacher in their first year of employment in a district, any teacher without a record of pre-existing SGOs or any nontenured teacher, the teacher is to set SGOs 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 SGO data consistent with any law, rule, or regulation enacted as a result of the findings of the task force.

The New Jersey School Boards Association supported the legislation.

Senate Voting Session

The Senate held a voting session on Monday, May 20 and passed the following school-related measures:

Reducing Bus Driver Shortages S-3000/S-2182, which is intended to alleviate the school bus driver shortage, would create a new “Type S School Bus Certificate” to be issued by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. The certificate would authorize a person to operate a Type S school bus to transport children to and from school without obtaining a commercial driver’s license, passenger endorsement, or school bus endorsement. A Type S bus is a school transportation vehicle that has a gross vehicle weight rating of 3,000 pounds or more, and which was originally designed by the manufacturer with a maximum seating capacity of nine passengers or less, excluding the driver.

The bill would establish the following eligibility requirements for the Type S Certificate:

  • Be at least 21 years old.
  • Has held a valid basic driver’s license for a minimum of three years.
  • Has passed a physical and eye examination.
  • Has completed and passed a knowledge examination pursuant to existing law.
  • Has completed the training program established on appropriate procedures for interacting with students with special needs.
  • Has completed any other conditions as determined by the NJMVC in collaboration with the commissioner of education.

The bill would also subject Type S bus drivers to various provisions of law applicable to other school bus drivers, such as criminal history record check requirements and various offenses that disqualify someone from serving as a bus driver.

Other provisions of law that would be amended to include Type S bus drivers include:

  • Consequences of knowingly operating a bus transporting students while the driver’s driving privileges have been suspended or revoked.
  • Consequences of leaving a pupil on the bus at the end of the driver’s route.
  • Consequences of certain motor vehicle violations.

The bill would also establish a new 10-hour training course that all bus drivers – CDL holders and holders of the Type S certificate – would be required to complete if their endorsement/certificate is suspended for accumulating a certain number of motor vehicle penalty points or for being convicted of a certain number of motor vehicle moving violations.

NJSBA strongly supports the bill, which is the Legislature’s latest attempt at providing flexibility in the licensing of school bus drivers to increase the pool of qualified drivers. The bill, which passed the full Assembly earlier this session, now heads to the governor for his consideration.

Eliminating “Basic Skills” Requirement A-1669/S-1287 would eliminate the requirement that candidates for instructional certificates complete an NJDOE-approved test of basic reading, writing and mathematics skills, including but not limited to the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators test.  The exemption will not apply to candidates seeking an instructional certificate pursuant to the pilot program that established a limited certificate of eligibility or a limited certificate of eligibility with advanced standing. This bill also prohibits the State Board of Education from requiring an educator preparation program to require the completion of a test of basic reading, writing and mathematics skills, including the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators test, as a condition for admission.

The bill also repeals P.L.2023, c.180, which permits a teacher candidate who meets all criteria for a certificate of eligibility, other than the requirement to meet certain minimum testing thresholds in the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators test, to receive an alternative certificate of eligibility. A-1669/S-1287 essentially negates the need for that law.

The NJSBA supports the bill. Before going to the governor, the legislation heads back to the General Assembly, which passed a previous version of the bill in March.

Supplemental Transportation Aid for Certain Districts S-787 provides supplemental transportation aid to certain districts participating in the interdistrict public school choice program. For choice districts that are under a desegregation order by the New Jersey Supreme Court, this bill provides additional transportation aid to the choice district to facilitate the transport of students to the choice district. To be eligible to receive the supplemental state aid for transportation, the choice district is required to demonstrate to the commissioner that the bus routes utilize cost efficient methods. The choice district is to annually report to the NJDOE at the end of each school year the cost of providing transportation to students from a sending district that exceeds the amount of funds the choice district receives from the sending district pursuant to the bill. The department is required to reimburse the choice district for the additional costs reported. NJSBA is monitoring the bill, which now goes to the General Assembly.

Residency Requirement Repeal Pilot S-2181 would eliminate the state residency requirement for public school employees for a period of three years.  The residency requirement was established by law (“New Jersey First Act”) in 2011 and currently applies to all public officers and employees, with certain limited exceptions. Under the bill, an out-of-state resident hired by a district will be exempt from the residency requirement so long as the position had been advertised to New Jersey residents for a period of three months before the out-of-state resident was hired. In addition, the person hired by the school district may not have been a New Jersey resident employed by a school district in New Jersey at any time in the one-year period preceding the enactment of this bill or during the three-year period following the effective date of the bill. Any out-of-state resident hired during the pilot program is to obtain residency in New Jersey within three years of being hired.

Following the three-year period, the NJDOE would be required to submit a report evaluating the elimination of the residency requirement with specific regard to its effectiveness, any unintended consequences, and any recommendations for legislation. Under the bill, a school district seeking to fill an open position must make a good faith effort to hire a person who maintains a principal residence in New Jersey for the open position.

The NJSBA strongly supports the repeal of the residency requirement statute, which reduces the pool of potential job applicants and limits districts’ ability to confront the staffing shortages they are experiencing. The repeal or loosening of the New Jersey First Act has been a longtime advocacy goal of the Association. While supportive of this bill’s intent, the NJSBA believes that the current version of the legislation is too restrictive to have a substantially positive impact and, should it move forward, the Association will advocate for changes that will make it more practical and useful for school districts. The bill now moves to the General Assembly.

Leasing School Property to FQHCs S-3156 permits boards of education to lease school property to federally qualified health centers without bidding. The bill adds FQHCs to the list of entities to which a local board of education may lease school buildings and property, no longer necessary for school purposes, for a nominal fee and without following the competitive bidding process. Other entities already on the list include federal, state and local governmental units, volunteer fire companies and rescue squads and veterans and senior citizens organizations. The NJSBA supports the bill, which heads to the General Assembly.

Committee Activity

Several committees met over the last week and advanced the following bills affecting New Jersey school districts:

Assembly Labor Committee

Heat Stress/Illness A-3521 establishes an occupational heat stress standard and “Occupational Heat-Related Illness and Injury Prevention Program” in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. This bill requires the commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development to establish by rule a heat stress standard that contains a standard that establishes heat stress levels for employers that, if exceeded, trigger actions by employers to protect employees from heat-related illness and injury. The bill includes a requirement that each employer develop, implement, and maintain an effective heat-related illness and injury prevention plan for employees within 30 days of the effective date of the act. The plan must include:

  • Monitoring for employee exposure to heat to determine whether an employee’s exposure has been excessive.
  • Providing potable water, available immediately and in immediate proximity to impacted employees with a temperature of less than 15 degrees Celsius or 59 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Providing paid rest breaks and access to shade, cool-down areas or climate-controlled spaces.
  • Providing an emergency response for any employee who has suffered injury as a result of being exposed to excessive heat.
  • Acclimatizing employees to areas where exposure to heat is present.
  • Limiting the length of time an employee may be exposed to heat during the workday.
  • Postponing tasks that are nonessential until the excessive heat condition subsides.
  • Increasing the total number of workers to reduce the heat exposure of each worker.
  • Instituting or increasing rest allowances.
  • Reminding workers to drink liquids in small amounts frequently to prevent dehydration.
  • To the extent practicable, monitoring the environmental heat index at job sites and resting places.

The commissioner of labor may issue a stop-work order against the employer, requiring cessation of all business operations of the employer at one or more worksites or across all of the employer’s worksites and places of business if the commissioner determines, after either an initial determination as a result of an audit of a business or an investigation pursuant to the bill, that an employer is in violation of the bill’s provisions. The bill imposes penalties and potential imprisonment for violations of its provisions.

The NJSBA opposes A-3521 because it is overbroad in scope imposing a “one-size-fits-all” solution to a problem that affects district employees differently depending on their districts and their job responsibilities.  The NJSBA testified that the bill harms local control and local collective bargaining.  Additionally, the NJSBA shared its concerns that the bill contains hidden costs that exacerbates the current staffing and facilities challenges of local districts.  The Association has joined a coalition of other organizations representing both private and public employers in opposing the legislation. The bill heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for consideration.

Increasing Workers Comp Fees A-3986 revises the workers’ compensation law to increase the cap in contingency fee matters from 20% to 25%. The NJSBA opposes the bill, which has the potential to increase costs for school districts. The bill may now be posted for an Assembly floor vote. Its counterpart, S-2822, passed the full Senate earlier this month.

Assembly Children, Families and Food Security Committee

Promoting Universal School Meals ACR-115 urges the United States Congress to pass the “Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021.” This federal legislation would provide free breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack to all schoolchildren regardless of their socioeconomic background.  The legislation also eliminates school food debt and reimburses schools for all delinquent school meal debt. The NJSBA supports the resolution.

Assembly Environment, Natural Resources and Solid Waste Committee

Water Qualities Notifications A-1400 requires the owner or operator of a public water system to immediately notify the governing body of a municipality and the chief administrator of every school located within the municipality whenever the public water system violates any drinking water quality standard.  The bill also requires the owner or operator of the public water system to provide information on suggested remedies that a customer may take to address the violation. The NJSBA supports the bill, which has been referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

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