Several legislative committees, including both the Assembly and Senate Education committees met in Trenton on Monday, May 6. Below is a rundown of any education-related bills that were considered. Unless otherwise noted, all of the measures received committee approval.

Assembly Education Committee

Physical Education Opt-Out A-3873 permits a public high school student in the tenth, eleventh, or twelfth grade who participates in a school-sponsored sport and who is scheduled to attend a physical education course during the athletic season of that sport to substitute the physical education course with a study hall. The student who chooses to substitute the physical education course with a study hall would receive the number of high school graduation credits equal to the number received for completing the physical education course for participating in the sport. Every school district would be required to develop a policy allowing eligible students to substitute a physical education course with a study hall.

The bill requires the parent or guardian of the student to provide the school district with written approval for the substitution. The coach of the school-sponsored sport is given the responsibility to certify to the school district the student’s participation in the sport. In addition, the student’s school counselor would need to certify that the student is eligible to substitute physical education with a study hall, and also approve of the substitution.

The bill provides that the school district is to determine which school athletic activities constitute a school-sponsored sport. Only student-athletes participating in school-sponsored sports would be permitted to elect to substitute study hall for physical education during that athletic season.

While generally supportive of the bill’s intent, the New Jersey School Boards Association is seeking amendments that would make it permissive rather than mandatory. NJSBA argued that opt-out policies should be determined and crafted at the local, rather than state, level. This would allow for all stakeholders – parents, students, staff, administrators, boards of education, etc. – to collectively decide whether an opt-out policy is appropriate based on community preferences and resources and under what conditions student-athletes should be able to take advantage of such a policy. Furthermore, school districts already can and do establish policies, often under “Option II,” that allow student-athletes to opt out of physical education.

Charter School Reserve Account A-447 grants school districts the authority to establish a charter school payment reserve account. Under current law, a school district is required to make payments to charter schools for each resident student who enrolls in the charter school.  The total payment is initially determined by the New Jersey Department of Education based on the projected charter school enrollment prior to the beginning of the school. The payments due to charter schools are subsequently adjusted based on charter schools’ actual enrollment as of Oct. 15.

When developing its budget for the upcoming school year, a school district may receive authorization from the NJDOE to budget an amount for charter school payments that is less than the projected total payment determined by the department.  Under this bill, a district in this circumstance would be allowed to use funds on deposit in the charter school payment reserve account to make payments to charter schools if the revised payment based on the Oct. 15 enrollment is greater than the amount that the district budgeted.  Similar to the tuition reserve currently authorized by State Board of Education regulations, a district board of education would be allowed to transfer interest earned on investments in the reserve account to the district’s general fund.

NJSBA supports the bill.

Nonpublic Transportation Notification Deadline A-2942 bill would change the date by which a school district is required to notify the parent or guardian of a nonpublic school student and the nonpublic school of the district’s determination on the manner in which transportation services will be provided to the pupil.  Currently, this notification is to occur by Aug. 1 prior to the beginning of the school year.  The bill changes the date to July 1. The bill also amends a section of law that concerns the use of cooperative transportation services for the provision of pupil transportation and refers to the Aug. 1 date.

NJSBA opposes the legislation. Currently, districts must already abide by a very tight schedule when deciding whether students will be provided transportation services or aid-in-lieu of transportation payments. There are various factors and steps that must be considered and accomplished before deciding how to accommodate nonpublic school students eligible for transportation. This bill will make the process even more difficult to manage.

Online School Meal Applications A-3260 would require the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, in consultation with the NJDOE, to develop an online school meal application. A district or nonprofit nonpublic school that currently offers an online school meals application would be required, within one year of the bill being signed, to switch to the NJDA’s application. Schools that do not currently offer an online school meal application would be required to “make every effort” to implement the NJDA’s application. A participating school that implements the NJDA’s application would be required to continue to provide parents with hard copies of subsidized school meal applications. NJSBA is monitoring the legislation.

Type 1 Diabetes Awareness A-4148 requires the NJDOE, in consultation with the New Jersey Department of Health, to develop informational materials on Type 1 diabetes.  The bill also requires that the materials be posted to NJDOE’s website.  School districts are to make the informational materials available to the parents or guardians of the students enrolled in the district. NJSBA supports the bill.

Senate Education Committee

Residency Requirement Repeal S-2181 would eliminate the state residency requirement for public school employees.  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. 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.

NJSBA strongly supports the bill, which is intended to increase the pool of potential job applicants and help address staffing shortages districts are experiencing. The repeal or loosening of the New Jersey First Act has been a longtime advocacy goal of the Association.

Eliminating the “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.  NJSBA supports the bill, which has already passed the full Assembly.

Delaying Budget Submissions A-4059/S-3002 would give districts receiving state aid reductions this year additional time to finalize their budgets.  The bill 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 would 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 would only apply 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 supports the bill, which is permissive and would only apply to the 2024-2025 school year. A-4059 passed the full Assembly in April.

Youth Sports Task Force S-1114 establishes a “Youth Sports Task Force” to examine issues and make recommendations concerning youth sports, including abusive coaching, confrontational parents and bullying of players. Issues that the task force would be directed to study include:

  1. Protection for parents, guardians and athletes from unscrupulous business practices conducted by for-profit entities sponsoring youth sports activities.
  2. Financial oversight to strengthen the business practices of youth sports team organizations and for-profit entities that sponsor youth sports.
  3. Training for coaches to recognize the signs and symptoms of harassment, intimidation and bullying.
  4. Ways to acknowledge and promote youth sports as an extension of the classroom.
  5. Developing training workshops for parents and guardians to recognize the signs and symptoms of HIB and abusive coaching and on proper spectator conduct.
  6. Protection for sports officials from abusive behavior while engaged in the performance of their duties.

NJSBA is monitoring the bill.

School Discipline Task Force S-2945 would establish a task force to examine, evaluate and make recommendations regarding discipline policies and practices in public schools, including any racial disparities in the implementation of the policies and the effectiveness of the policies. Specifically, the task force shall:

  1. Examine discipline practices of school districts and any racial disparities or disproportionate impacts associated with the discipline practices, including the impact of race on the suspension or expulsion of students enrolled in preschool programs.
  2. Evaluate the effectiveness of school discipline practices in reducing problem behaviors and protecting the safety and security of students and school staff.
  3. Study federal guidance on school discipline issued by the United States Department of Education and the United States Department of Justice.
  4. Study other best practices or emerging research regarding improving school climate and creating positive and nondiscriminatory school discipline practices.
  5. Provide recommendations to assist school districts in improving school discipline policies and practices.
  6. Provide recommendations for legislation concerning school discipline policies and practices.

NJSBA, which would have a representative on the task force, supports the bill.

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.

NJSBA supports the bill.

IEP Awareness SJR-53 designates May of each year as “Individualized Education Plan Awareness Month” in New Jersey.  NJSBA supports the resolution.

Recognizing Paraprofessionals SJR-76 designates the second Friday of December of each year as “Paraprofessional and School-Related Personnel in Our Schools Day” in New Jersey to recognize the contributions of paraprofessionals and school-related personnel. NJSBA supports the resolution.

‘For Discussion Only’

The committee received testimony, but did not hold a vote, on the following bills:

Compulsory School Attendance  S-2970 lowers the age requirement of compulsory school attendance from six to five years old. At the committee hearing, NJSBA raised concerns about funding and the impact on facilities.  Specifically, NJSBA urged the committee to identify the number of five-year olds that were not currently receiving any formal schooling, so that districts would then have a better understanding of the potential impact of this bill on district facility and staffing needs.

Administering Seizure Medication S-1060 would require a board of education to develop a policy in accordance with the guidelines established by the NJDOE for the emergency administration of nasal seizure rescue medication and the emergency use of a manual vagus nerve stimulator on a student with a seizure disorder. Pursuant to the policy, the school nurse would have the primary responsibility for the administration of nasal seizure rescue medication.  The certified school nurse would be required to designate at least two additional employees of the school district who volunteer to administer the nasal seizure rescue medication and use a manual vagus nerve stimulator on a student when the school nurse is not physically present at the scene. The NJSBA is seeking various amendments to the bill to ensure that any new requirements regarding care for students with seizure disorders are embedded as smoothly as possible within the framework of existing seizure care requirements, particularly the seizure action plan development process required by “Paul’s Law” (P.L.2019, c.290).

Senate Transportation Committee

Reducing Bus Driver Shortage S-3000, 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 School Bus 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.

Surprise Bus Inspections S-323 requires the NJMVC to conduct unscheduled surprise inspections of school buses. Specifically, the bill requires the NJMVC to conduct a minimum of two annual inspections of school buses through the NJMVC school bus enhanced safety inspection program.  In addition to the annual scheduled inspection of school buses required under current law, NJMVC is also required to conduct unscheduled surprise inspections. NJSBA is monitoring the bill.

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