Several legislative committees, including both houses’ education committees, met last week. Among the various measures that advanced was an NJSBA initiative that would expand the voting rights of school board members representing sending districts involved in sending-receiving relationships. The following provides a rundown of last week’s legislative activity, as well as a summary of any education-related bills that were approved by the full Assembly at its Monday voting session.

Senate Education Committee

Send-Receive Bill Moves, Advances NJSBA Goal S-3191 broadens the voting rights of representatives of sending school districts who are eligible for membership on the receiving district board of education. The current statute permits the representatives to vote on tuition which the receiving district will charge the sending district and certain bill lists or contracts; new capital construction to be utilized by sending district pupils; the appointment, transfer or removal of certain teaching staff members and professional administrative staff; and the addition or deletion of curricular and extracurricular programs involving pupils of the sending district. This bill provides that the representative would also vote on any matter directly involving sending district pupils or programs and services utilized by them; approval of the annual receiving district budget; any collectively-negotiated agreement involving employees who provide services utilized by sending district pupils; any individual employee contracts not covered by a collectively-negotiated agreement, if those employees provide or oversee programs or services utilized by sending district pupils; and any matter concerning governance of the receiving board, including, but not limited to, the selection of board president and vice-president, approval of board bylaws, and the employment of professionals or consultants such as attorneys, architects, engineers, or others who provide services to the receiving district board of education.

The NJSBA-initiated bill is based on its policy adopted at the May 2014 Delegate Assembly which states: “The statutory language of N.J.S.A. 18A:38-8.1 should be revised to expand the voting rights of sending district representatives on matters before the receiving district board of education to include the ability to vote on all matters that impact the students of the sending district in the receiving district; all district-wide issues, all board governance issues and all matters related to the grade levels to which the sending district sends its students.”

At the hearing, NJSBA counsel John Burns said “There are approximately 129 districts throughout the state that are involved in some sort of sending-receiving relationship. These relationships promote efficiency, as those sending districts are not spending additional taxpayer dollars on additional educational facilities when neighboring districts already possess the facilities to house and educate the sending district students.” Burns continued by saying that S-3191 “increases the number of items that the sending district representative can vote on, giving the taxpayers of the sending district a greater voice in how their tuition dollars are spent and a greater say in the quality of services that are provided to their students. The sending district tuition dollars support the receiving district budget; therefore, the taxpayers of the sending district should have a greater voice in how those dollars are spent.”

Burns was joined by Eileen Miller, a board member from Woodstown-Pilesgrove Regional School District, which receives students from the Upper Pittsgrove and Alloway school districts. Miller said, “As members of our community who support our budget through the tuition that they pay to our district, [the sending districts] should have a larger voice concerning the operations of our district and the educational services that their students receive. S-3191 would permit the Alloway and Upper Pittsgrove communities and other sending districts around the state to have that larger voice concerning how their dollars are spent.’

The bill now heads to the full Senate for its consideration and approval. The NJSBA thanks Sen. Steve Sweeney for his sponsorship of S-3191 and Sen.Teresa Ruiz for advancing the bill through the education committee.

Farm to School Coordinating Council A-3058/S-2366 would establish the “Farm to School Coordinating Council.” The council would consist of five members as follows: the N.J. Secretary of Agriculture, the N.J. Commissioner of Education, and three members of the public who have experience working with the New Jersey Farm to School Program. The council would examine all areas of the New Jersey Farm to School Program and identify any outstanding issues or problems that need to be resolved and areas in need of improvement. The council would focus on the procurement process relating to the purchase of agricultural products by schools from New Jersey farmers, and recommend ways to increase the participation of both farmers and schools in the program. The council would also make recommendations on ways to promote and increase the use of fresh farm foods at schools throughout the state.

The bill may now be posted for a floor in the Senate. A-3058 unanimously passed the full General Assembly last fall. NJSBA supports the bill.

Educating Student-Athletes on Opioid Abuse A-3944/S-2402 requires the N.J. Commissioner of Education to develop an educational fact sheet that provides information concerning the use and misuse of opioid drugs in the event that a student-athlete or cheerleader is prescribed an opioid for a sports-related injury.  The bill requires school districts and nonpublic schools to distribute the fact sheet annually to the parents or guardians of student-athletes and cheerleaders, and to obtain a signed acknowledgement of its receipt.

The bill may now be posted for a floor vote in the Senate. A-3944 unanimously passed the full General Assembly in February. NJSBA supports the bill.

ELL Students in G&T Programs A-4175/S-2808 directs the N.J. Commissioner of Education to develop guidance for school districts regarding the identification of English language learners for gifted and talented programs. The purpose of the guidance is to: (1) assist districts in identifying English language learners in grades kindergarten through 12 who are gifted and talented in order to match them with programs that will help them achieve in accordance with their full capabilities; and (2) provide guidelines on appropriate identification methods that may help reduce the underrepresentation of English language learners in gifted and talented programs.

The bill may now be posted for a floor vote in the Senate. A-4175 unanimously passed the full General Assembly in March. NJSBA supports the bill.

Protecting Students in Wheelchairs S-2638 requires school buses that provide transportation for students using wheelchairs to be equipped with a four-point securement system for each student using a wheelchair on the school bus. A four-point securement system is defined as a complete four-point system that includes four wheelchair restraints to secure a wheelchair to the vehicle floor; a lap and shoulder belt that integrates to the rear wheelchair restraints; and floor anchorages installed in the vehicle floor. Under the bill, students using wheelchairs are required to be secured using the four-point securement system at all times while the bus is in operation. The four-point securement system required under this bill mirrors existing requirements under federal regulations. As such, the bill would not impose additional costs on school districts.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration. NJSBA supports the bill.

Promoting Dual Language Immersion S-2704 establishes a grant program for school districts and charter schools to develop dual language immersion programs. The bill directs the N.J. Commissioner of Education to establish a dual language immersion program. Under the program, the commissioner will provide grants to school districts and charter schools to develop dual language immersion programs in Chinese, Spanish, French, or any other language approved by the commissioner. A school district or charter school may be eligible to receive funds if it uses an instructional model that provides at least 50 percent of its instruction in English and 50 percent of its instruction in Chinese, Spanish, French, or any other language approved by the commissioner. The program would have to begin in kindergarten or grade one and would need to meet any other requirements established by the commissioner. The bill establishes the Dual Language Immersion Program Fund to finance the grant program, which would be credited with money appropriated by the Legislature, any gifts, grants, or donations made to the fund, and any other available revenue.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration. NJSBA supports the bill.

State Fiscal Monitors S-3020 provides that the salary and other costs associated with a state monitor and any additional staff appointed by the N.J. Commissioner of Education under the provisions of the “School District Fiscal Accountability Act” to provide direct oversight of a board of education’s business operations and personnel matters will be paid by the state.  Under current law, these costs are assumed by the school district.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration. NJSBA supports the bill.

Guidance on Transgender Students S-3067 requires the commissioner of education to develop guidelines for school districts regarding transgender students. The guidelines are intended to provide direction for schools in addressing common issues concerning the needs of transgender students, and to assist schools in establishing policies and procedures that ensure a supportive and nondiscriminatory environment for transgender students. The guidelines will also include information on organizations or other resources available to students and parents that provide support to transgender individuals.

In addition, the bill requires the commissioner to provide school districts with guidance and resources regarding: (1) providing professional development opportunities to school staff regarding issues and concerns relevant to LGBTQ students; and (2) making developmentally appropriate information about LGBTQ issues available in school facilities.

The bill may now be posted for a floor vote in the Senate. NJSBA supports the bill.

Opioid Abuse Policies SR-59 urges New Jersey’s school districts and nonpublic schools to adopt a policy to address abuse of prescription opioids by students. This non-binding Senate resolution urges school districts and nonpublic schools to adopt a policy, as suggested by the NJSIAA Medical Advisory Committee, to address the abuse of prescription opioids by students. The policy would include: notification to the school nurse by the student’s parent or guardian if an opioid medication has been prescribed; and drug monitoring if the student demonstrates any signs or symptoms that raise the possibility of opioid abuse during or beyond the duration of the prescription. If approved by the full Senate, the resolution will be distributed by the State Board of Education to all public and nonpublic schools. NJSBA supports the resolution.

Assembly Education Committee

Smokeless Tobacco Ban A-493/S-293 prohibits the use of smokeless tobacco in public schools. The bill requires the board of education of each school district to ensure the placement, in every public entrance to a public school building in its district, of a sign indicating the use of smokeless tobacco is prohibited in the school. The penalties for using smokeless tobacco in violation of this bill would be a fine of not less than $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense, and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

Under the bill, in the event that the local board of health receives a written complaint, or has reason to suspect a public school is in violation of the bill’s provision, then the board of health will provide written notification to the board of education and order that appropriate action be taken. The board of education would be subject to a fine in the event that it fails to comply. The fine would be not less than $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense, and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

A student who uses smokeless tobacco in a public school in violation of the bill’s provisions, will not be subject to the fines, but rather will be prohibited by the board of education of the district from participation in all extracurricular activities and will have his or her student parking permit revoked.

The bill has been referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for additional consideration. S-293 has already passed the full Senate by a vote of 35-2. NJSBA supports the bill.

Promoting “Smarter Lunchrooms” A-3444, also known as “The Smarter Lunchroom Act,” promotes healthy food choices in school cafeterias by encouraging school districts, public schools, and nonpublic schools to adopt the strategies of The Smarter Lunchroom Movement. The Smarter Lunchroom Movement was founded by researchers at the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs and offers simple, low to no-cost evidence-based tools that improve child eating behaviors in school cafeterias. The bill requires the N.J. Commissioner of Education to make every effort to assist, guide, and support schools in planning, establishing, and implementing the strategies of The Smarter Lunchroom Movement.

The bill has been referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for additional consideration. NJSBA supports the bill.

School Bus Cameras A-3798/S-211 explicitly permits the use of video cameras to crack down on motorists illegally passing school buses. More specifically, the bill authorizes the use of a school bus monitoring system to assist in the enforcement of existing law that prohibits motor vehicles from passing a school bus while it is stopped to pick up or discharge students. Alleged school bus passing violations captured by such a monitoring system would be compiled into an evidence file and forwarded to the chief law enforcement officer of the municipality. If law enforcement determines that a violation has occurred, a summons would be issued. The money from any fines would be used for general municipal and school district purposes, including efforts to improve the monitoring and enforcement of the unlawful passing of a school buses and the provision of public education safety programs. The bill would also increase the fines for any violations of the no-passing law, regardless of whether they are captured by a video camera or through police observations.

While the legislation would establish a formal legal and procedural framework for school bus monitoring systems, local boards of education do not necessarily need to wait for explicit statutory authorization before placing cameras on the exterior of school buses. Several school districts have already chosen to install video cameras on the exterior of their school buses in an attempt to crack down on motorists that violate the law. While not a widespread practice at this point, the NJSBA is aware of at least three towns – Jefferson Township, Denville, and Branchburg – that have begun utilizing video enforcement technology on their school buses.The bills were released from committee with amendments and have been referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for additional consideration. NJSBA supports the measure.

Students on Naval Property A-4453 requires pupils who reside on the Naval Weapons Station Earle to enroll in the resident school district in accordance with a schedule determined by the executive county superintendent of schools. A 1988 law authorized the executive county superintendent of schools in Monmouth County to designate a school district as the district of residence for the students who reside on federal property at the Naval Weapons Station Earle. The property on which Earle is located is within the geographic boundaries of two separate school districts. Pursuant to that law and since the 1988-1989 school year, the Tinton Falls School District has provided educational services to children who reside on Earle.

This bill provides that beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, the pupils who reside on the federal property be enrolled in the schools of the district in which the pupils reside in accordance with an enrollment schedule determined by the executive county superintendent of schools. The enrollment schedule must provide for the transition, over a period of four school years, of all pupils enrolled in the designated district to enrollment in the schools of the district in which the pupils reside, so that by July 1, 2020 all pupils are enrolled in the schools of the district in which they reside. The bill allows a pupil an option to continue in the school of the designated district he is attending on the bill’s effective date until graduation from that school. The bill may now be scheduled for a floor vote in the Assembly.

Federal Impact Aid Funding AR-202, a non-binding resolution, urges the federal government to increase funding for the Impact Aid Program. Under that program, school districts receive additional federal funding to offset the property tax revenue loss that results from the presence of federally-owned property and to support the costs of educating federally-connected students, such as children whose parents are in the military. The program has been significantly underfunded, inhibiting affected school districts from providing the educational opportunities their students deserve. NJSBA supports the resolution.

The following committees advanced the following bills:

Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee

School Bus Aides S-2757 requires that a board of education or school bus contractor that provides transportation services under contract with a board of education maintain a minimum ratio of one school bus aide for every 15 students with special needs on the school bus. This ratio must be maintained at all times that a school bus is transporting students with special needs or a combination of students with special needs and general education students. NJSBA raised concerns about the additional costs to local districts of providing the additional aides and urged the committee to find the funds to cover the additional expenses.

Merging Non-Operating Districts A-4352/S-2843 concerns non-operational districts and establishes procedures for eliminating a school district’s deficit that existed prior to merging with another district. The bill also authorizes the renting of school buildings for 10 years. NJSBA supported the bill.

Senate Higher Education Committee

College Readiness Commission S-2567 establishes a “High School to College Readiness Commission” to examine issues and develop recommendations to enhance student preparation for postsecondary education. Under the bill, the commission will consist of 18 members including the commissioner of education, the Secretary of Higher Education, and the executive director of the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. The 11 other members would be appointed by the governor, one of whom would be a representative of the New Jersey School Boards Association.

It will be the duty of the commission to study and develop recommendations on issues related to enhancing student preparation for postsecondary education and raising the awareness of students and parents on the admission requirements and the financial and other issues associated with postsecondary education. NJSBA supports the legislation.

Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee

School Zone Speed Limits A-4335 allows counties and municipalities to establish a permanent reduced speed limit on a county or municipal road directly adjacent to a school. The bill also authorizes the Department of Transportation to establish a permanent reduced speed limit on any state road directly adjacent to a school if a municipality or county adopts a resolution or ordinance requesting that the department adopt a reduced speed limit on that portion of the state road.

The bill is named “Antwan’s Law” in memory of Antwan Timbers, Jr., a high school student who was tragically killed while walking alongside Route 130 in Burlington City, Burlington County, which is one of the most dangerous roadways in the state for pedestrians. The portion of Route 130 in Burlington City, Burlington County is particularly dangerous because Burlington City High School is directly adjacent to the northbound lanes of Route 130 in Burlington City and the Wilbur Watts Intermediate School is directly adjacent to the southbound lanes of Route 130 in Burlington City. NJSBA supports the bill.

Assembly Voting Session

The full General Assembly convened on Monday and unanimously approved each of the following bills that impact NJ’s public schools:

Head Injury Safety ProgramsS-2348/A-3799 broadens existing law to provide that students participating in intramural sports programs will be included in the student-athlete head injury safety program, and that the coaches of intramural sports programs must complete a safety training program. Pursuant to current law, the N.J. Department of Education developed a head injury safety training program on the recognition of the symptoms of head injuries and the appropriate amount of time to delay the return to competition of a student who suffers a head injury. Currently, the program must be completed by school physicians, coaches, and athletic trainers involved in interscholastic sports programs and cheerleading programs, but not intramural coaches.

NJSBA supports the bill, which has now passed both houses of the Legislature and heads to the governor’s desk.

Special Education Legal DecisionsS-1451/A-3856 requires the NJ Department of Education to make available on its website an electronic database of legal decisions concerning special education in New Jersey. The database must be easily accessed by anyone who wishes to obtain information on legal decisions regarding New Jersey special education matters. NJDOE may meet the requirements of this bill by maintaining the database directly on its website or by entering into a memorandum of understanding with another entity that maintains a database of such legal decisions. NJSBA supports the legislation, which has already passed the full Senate and is now on the governor’s desk.

Expanding Class III Officer EligibilityA-4451 authorizes retired state or county corrections officers, State juvenile corrections officers, or juvenile detention officers to serve as Class Three special law enforcement officers (SLEO). A 2016 law – which will go into effect on June 1, 2017 – establishes a new category of “Class Three” SLEOs to provide security in this state’s public and nonpublic schools and county colleges. A person is eligible to be appointed as a Class Three SLEO if he or she is a retired police officer less than 65 years old and has served as duly qualified, fully-trained, full-time municipal or county police officer or was regularly employed as a full-time member of the State Police. The person also has to be physically capable of performing the job and have the appropriate law enforcement and safe schools resource officer training. These officers are to be hired in a part-time capacity. This bill expands those retired law enforcement officers qualified to serve as a Class Three SLEO to also include any retired interstate police officer, state or county corrections officer, state juvenile corrections officer, juvenile detention officer, and any other full time law enforcement officer with full powers of arrest.

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