On Oct. 27, the General Assembly held a voting session and gave final legislative approval to a bill designed to assist law enforcement in responding to school emergencies. The Senate Education Committee considered a bill, among several others, that would establish a “High Efficiency Accelerated Learning Grant Program” to support tutoring opportunities to mitigate the effects of interrupted learning due to COVID-19. The Senate Transportation Committee advanced legislation aimed at alleviating the school bus driver shortage. A rundown of education-related measures considered by the Legislature last week follows below.

Assembly Voting Session

The General Assembly approved the following measures:

School Mapping Data S-2426/A-3835 would amend existing law that requires districts to share “blueprints and maps” with local law enforcement to instead require sharing the following mapping data:

  • Aerial images of schools.
  • Floor plans, including room and suite numbers.
  • Building access points.
  • Locations of hazardous materials and utility shutoffs.
  • Any other relevant location information.

The bill specifies that these requirements would apply to traditional school districts as well as charter and renaissance schools. The bill would require that the above information shared by districts be compatible with all platforms and applications used by law enforcement, be verified for accuracy through an annual walkthrough of school buildings and school grounds and be provided in a printable format.

Earlier in the legislative process, the New Jersey School Boards Association testified, expressing support for the concept but seeking a funding mechanism to support districts’ implementation. The governor established such a funding mechanism in August, announcing the investment of $6.5 million in American Rescue Plan funds to enable the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness and the New Jersey State Police to contract with an outside vendor to assist with mapping schools. Additional information on the governor’s announcement may be found in the NJSBA’s Sept. 7, 2022, School Board Notes article, “$6.5M in American Rescue Plan Funds to Benefit Statewide School Security Mapping Initiative.

With funding in place, the NJSBA supports the bill. It has now passed both houses and awaits action by the governor.

Police in School Polling Place S-2912/A-2131 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 after Jan. 1, 2023, 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.” NJSBA supports the bill as it would provide local boards with the discretion to have police present at school polling places. Next, the bill must be approved again by the Senate, which passed a previous version of the bill, before it can head to the governor.

Information Literacy Standards S-588/A-4169 would require, as part of the required periodic update of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards, the State Board of Education to adopt standards in information literacy. Information Literacy standards would describe knowledge and skills that enable students to locate, evaluate and use information effectively, including digital, media and technological literacy. The standards would address such themes as the difference between facts, point of view and opinions; research methods; and accessing peer-reviewed print and digital library resources. In developing the information literacy standards, the NJDOE would be required to convene a committee of educators, engage experts and hold public hearings. The bill would also require districts to incorporate instruction on information literacy in an appropriate place in the K-12 curriculum as part of the district’s implementation of the NJSLS, and to include the school library media specialist in the development of curriculum concerning information literacy whenever possible. NJSBA supports the bill. It next heads back to the Senate for a final vote, as it was amended in the Assembly following the Senate’s June 2022 approval.

Senate Education Committee

The committee considered the following bills:

High Efficiency Accelerated Learning Grant Program S-3220 would establish the High Efficiency Accelerated Learning Grant Program to provide high-impact tutoring opportunities to mitigate the effects of interrupted learning due to COVID-19. The program would support school districts, charter schools and renaissance schools, or partnerships thereof, in creating and implementing high-impact tutoring programs. Nonpublic schools would also be able to participate in these partnerships. The program would be overseen and evaluated by a Tutoring Advisory Commission established in but not of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, on which a local school board representative, among other stakeholders, would sit.

Each tutoring program would be required to meet certain minimum criteria, including:

  • Offering tutoring in English language arts and mathematics and in all grade levels taught by the grantee.
  • Placing no more than five students in each tutoring group.
  • Providing tutoring at least three times per week.
  • Providing tutoring at a time and in a setting that facilitates and promotes learning.
  • Providing high-quality trained tutors (e.g., public or nonpublic schoolteachers, paraprofessionals, or school administrative staff; community providers of tutoring services; AmeriCorps members; candidates in certified educator preparation programs).
  • Ensuring that tutors remain the same, to the greatest extent possible, for each group throughout the marking period, or its equivalent.
  • Using data and interim assessments to monitor student progress.

Tutoring programs could be offered during school hours, as after- or before-school programs, or as summer programs. Students designated as underperforming by the grantee, or who are not meeting grade-level expectations, would be automatically enrolled in the tutoring program, and other students would have the ability to opt in. Parents or guardians would have the ability to opt their child out of the program.

Prospective grantees would be required to apply to the Tutoring Advisory Commission. The commission would select grant recipients on a competitive basis but would give preference to programs that are set up to function for more than five years and could continue beyond the duration of the grant, programs that occur within regular school hours, or programs that partner with a certified educator preparation program within the state to utilize teaching candidates as tutors. Selected applicants would be required to put up matching funds.

The bill would establish the “High Efficiency Accelerated Learning Grant Fund” to finance the program. The Tutoring Advisory Commission would be permitted to utilize any federal or state funds allocated for the remediation of COVID-19 related learning loss, and any federal or state funds that are available for accelerated learning or workforce development programs.

According to the bill statement, “the State must invest in learning recovery efforts in order to ensure all students receive a thorough and efficient education.” In addition, “tutoring programs that are embedded in the classroom and partner with teacher preparation programs can both reduce teachers’ workload burdens and increase a teaching candidate’s preparedness for being in the classroom, and consequently these programs are an invaluable workforce development tool … a well-established tutor-to-teacher pipeline can help keep teachers in the profession and attract teaching candidates to the State.”

Extending School District Audit Deadline S-2657 would extend the deadlines for completing and filing  a school district’s annual audit by two months. The current deadline for completion of the audit (five months following the end of the school year, or Nov. 30) would be extended to Jan. 31; the current deadline for filing of the audit with the NJDOE (five days after the audit is completed, or Dec. 5) would be extended to Feb. 5. The bill would also specify the deadline for districts to submit an Audit Summary to the NJDOE as Jan. 15. The NJSBA expressed concern that delaying audit submission could create challenges for districts in completing timely, fiscally responsible budgets by delaying the release of key budget information and resources that rely on audit data, such as the NJDOE’s budget software. The bill’s Assembly counterpart, A-4033, has not yet moved. S-2657 next heads to the Senate floor for further consideration.

Train the Trainer S-2659 would establish a $1 million Train the Trainer Program for Student Well-being in the NJDOE. The purpose of the optional program would be to educate participants on how to effectively lead a course for public schoolteachers and staff on the topic of student behavioral and mental health.  The course would address:

  • Trauma-informed approaches to improve overall school climate and culture;
  • The signs of behavioral and mental health challenges and substance use disorders that may be experienced by students.
  • Restorative practices for addressing youth behavioral and mental health challenges;
  • Methods to improve youth social and emotional health and fostering a positive school climate.
  • Methods to encourage positive bystander behavior.
  • Best practices to provide assistance to students in non-crisis situations.
  • How to safely de-escalate crisis situations.
  • How to identify and access available behavioral and mental health resources and substance use disorder support services appropriate for students.

The bill would permit NJDOE to enter into an agreement with an organization to administer the program, provided that the organization has experience in providing evidence-based youth behavioral and mental health training programs and educating instructors using a train the trainer model. NJSBA supports the bill. It next heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

Rowan VETeach Pilot Program S-2764 would establish the “VETeach Pilot Program” in the NJDOE designed to help address the educator shortage by helping facilitate teacher certification for the state’s veterans. Under the pilot program, Rowan University would enroll, in a 36-month teacher preparation program, veterans who served in the armed forces on or after Sept. 11, 2001. The program would lead to a baccalaureate degree and completion of the requirements necessary to apply to the NJDOE for a certificate of eligibility with advanced standing in certain endorsement areas. The bill is modeled on legislation that established a similar program at Stockton University in 2012 (P.L.2012, c.2). NJSBA supports the bill, which awaits further consideration in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

School Safety and Security Task Force S-3079 would establish a School Safety and Security Task Force “to study and develop recommendations to improve school safety and security, and to ensure a safe learning environment for students and employees.” The Task Force would consist of 15 members, including representatives of NJDOE, the Office of Homeland Security, and NJSBA, among other stakeholders, law enforcement, and members of the public with expertise in school security. The task force would be charged with developing recommendations regarding several school security issues, including but not limited to hardening the school perimeter and building entryways; strategies to ensure the needs of students with disabilities are reflected in all areas of emergency planning and response measures; and standards for architectural design for new construction. NJSBA supports the bill, which next heads to the Senate floor for further consideration.

Military Impact Aid Reserve Account S-3089 would permit a school district that received unanticipated state military impact aid revenue in the 2021-2022 school year (pursuant to P.L.2022, c.19, which ensured an allocation of military impact aid for Rockaway Township School District and Tinton Falls School District) to establish a state military impact aid reserve account. Such a district would be permitted to appropriate the unanticipated state military impact aid revenue to establish the reserve account in the district’s annual budget, or through transfer by a two-thirds affirmative vote of the authorized membership of the board, for withdrawal in any subsequent school year. Any transfer to the reserve account would not exceed the total amount of unanticipated state military impact aid revenue. The district, at its discretion, would be able to use the funds in the reserve account for general fund expenses. The bill requires the reserve account to be established and held in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles and provides that the account would be subject to an annual audit. NJSBA supports the bill, which next heads to the Senate floor for further consideration.

Pathway to Certification for Montessori Teachers S-3172 would establish a pathway to teacher certification for holders of a Montessori teaching credential. Specifically, a person would be eligible for a certificate of eligibility  under this route if they:

  • Hold a Montessori teaching credential issued by the American 16 Montessori Society, the Association Montessori Internationale, or an institution accredited by the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education.
  • Hold a bachelor’s degree in any field from an accredited institution of higher education.
  • Meet the applicable test requirements for a certificate of eligibility.

Candidates eligible for a certificate of eligibility under this pathway would not be required to complete a state-approved educator preparation program. The NJSBA testified expressing appreciation for the committee’s continued focus on addressing the educator shortage but noted that the range in teacher preparation standards across different bodies accredited by MACTE may cause concern regarding readiness of these educators to teach in public, non-Montessori school settings. The bill next heads to the Senate floor for further consideration; its Assembly counterpart has not yet moved.

Senate Transportation Committee

The committee advanced the following bill aimed at increasing the pool of school bus drivers.

Non-CDL Drivers for Small School Buses S-3203 would create a new “Type S School Bus Certificate” to be issued by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission,  authorizing 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.

S-3203 is the Legislature’s latest attempt at providing flexibility in the licensing of school bus drivers. A separate bill, A-3565/S-2152/S-1682, moved this past summer that would have allowed holders of a noncommercial driver’s license to drive a Type S school bus if they completed certain training requirements. There has been no action on that bill since it passed the Assembly on June 16. The NJSBA supported that bill at the time, and supports this legislation as well, recognizing that COVID-19 has exacerbated longstanding challenges posed to district operations by nationwide school bus driver shortages. S-3203 next heads to the Senate floor for further consideration.

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