On Monday, Nov. 15, various legislative committees convened either remotely or at the State House. The following is a summary of legislation affecting New Jersey’s public school districts.

Senate Environment and Energy Committee

Electric School Bus Pilot Program  S-4077 creates a three-year pilot program to determine the operational reliability and cost effectiveness of replacing diesel-powered school buses with electric school buses for daily transportation of students. The New Jersey Economic Development Authority will award $15 million annually ($45 million total) to six school districts per year (18 total) to participate. At least one of the districts or bus contractors annually selected is to be located in a “low-income, urban, or environmental justice community.” The NJEDA may use available monies to provide grants from the following three sources: the societal benefits charge revenues, the Plug-in Electric Vehicle Incentive Fund, or the Global Warming Solutions Fund. NJSBA supports the bill.

Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee

Reviewing and Reporting of Tax Exemptions  S-2546 requires cost-benefit analyses for long-term tax exemptions and creates a state database of these exemptions. Both the applicant and the mayor or chief executive officer of the municipality will produce independent cost-benefit analyses. These analyses would be posted on the municipality’s website and would be part of the public record. Further, municipalities that grant new long-term property tax exemptions are to provide pertinent information about each approved project to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, which will then post this information on its website. Unfortunately, a provision requiring the sharing of payments in lieu of taxes to be proportionally shared with school districts, among others, was removed at committee. NJSBA supports the bill but will continue to advocate for the sharing of PILOT funds to be returned to the bill.

Assembly Appropriations Committee

Reporting Discipline Data  A-1184/A-4414/S-1020 requires the School Report Card to include a demographic breakdown of students who receive disciplinary actions and requires the commissioner of education to establish a statewide database concerning various disciplinary actions. This consolidated bill would require that there be a demographic breakdown by race, gender, disability and grade level of the students who receive discipline, as well as the types of discipline imposed. The bill now heads to the full Assembly for consideration.

Electric Bus Loans  S-228/A-1626 would have the New Jersey Economic Development Authority administer a loan program for school districts and school bus contractors to acquire electric powered school buses.  NJEDA will provide loans for the cost differential of purchasing an electric-powered school bus instead of a diesel or gasoline-powered school bus. NJEDA is given broad discretion as to the terms and conditions of the loans. The bill passed the Senate in March 2020 by a 38-1 vote. NJSBA supports the legislation.

Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee

Lead Testing Reporting A-1977 requires the state to establish an online reporting system for lead testing results. The system will be established one year after the enactment of this bill. School districts and child care centers will then have 90 days to submit or resubmit their test results to the online system. This information would then be publicly accessible on the NJDOE’s website. Two years following this bill’s enactment, the state will generate a report outlining the extent of lead contamination in the drinking water of schools and child care centers and recommendations for further course of action. NJSBA continues to monitor this legislation.

Senate Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee

Enrolling Students of Military Families  S-3783 permits dependents of a military member to enroll in a school district in advance of a military member’s relocation to the district. The bill would permit dependents to enroll in the district even if their parent has not yet relocated. NJSBA sought and received an amendment requiring a copy of the relocation orders be presented to the district prior to enrollment. NJSBA supports this bill, which now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

Purple Star Schools  S-3785 establishes “Purple Star Schools Program” in the New Jersey Department of Education to recognize public and nonpublic schools that emphasize the importance of assisting children of military families. Under the bill, the commissioner of education will annually recognize as Purple Star Schools those schools that provide for, or have made significant progress to respond to, the educational and social-emotional challenges military-connected students encounter during the transition to a new school when the student’s parent or guardian is an active-duty member of the United States Armed Forces and is relocated due to the member’s continued military service. This bill establishes a working group to develop criteria to be used in the designation of public and nonpublic schools as Purple Star Schools. NJSBA successfully sought an amendment to include a school board member as part of the working group. NJSBA supports this bill, which now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

Remote Voting for Active-Duty Military BOE Members  S-3758 provides that a board of education may, by resolution, allow a school board member who is serving on active duty to participate remotely in meetings of the board of education. Furthermore, a school board member who is serving on active duty who participates remotely is required to be included in the quorum of that school board meeting. The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.