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With campaign season in the rearview mirror, legislators returned to the State House last week to kick off what is expected to be another busy lame duck season as the 2022-2023 session ends in January. The Senate Education Committee met on Monday, Nov. 27. And the governor acted on several measures affecting school districts that had been sitting on his desk since the Legislature went into summer recess in June. A rundown of education-related activity over the past two weeks follows below.

Senate Education Committee

The committee considered the following bills:

Tax Deduction for Classroom Supplies S-1980/A-2227: would allow educators to deduct from their gross income for the taxable year up to $250 in unreimbursed expenses for the purchase of classroom supplies. K-12 teachers, counselors, speech language specialists, principals and aides that provide at least 900 hours of service in a public or private school would be eligible. The Assembly approved A-2227 in May 2023; the bill now awaits a final vote by the full Senate. NJSBA supports the bill.

FAFSA Graduation RequirementA-1181/S-2054 requires students to complete financial aid applications as part of high school graduation requirements. The bill provides that, beginning with the 2023-2024 grade 11 class and for two years thereafter, a board of education or a board of trustees of a charter school shall require a student to complete and submit a financial aid application in a form prescribed by the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. This requirement would serve as a prerequisite to the student receiving a high school diploma. However, a student would be exempt from this requirement if the student (if at least 18 years of age) or the student’s parent or guardian (if the student is less than 18) submits a waiver form to the school district or charter school. In addition, if the waiver form cannot be reasonably obtained from a parent, the student’s school counselor may authorize the waiver.

The NJSBA testified in opposition to the bill and expressed concerns about imposing a nonacademic requirement to graduate from high school. The NJSBA urged the Legislature to consider a more incentive-based, resource-backed approach to increase financial aid application completion rates. A copy of the NJSBA’s position statement on the bill can be found here. A previous version of the bill passed the full Assembly in June.

Send-Receive RepresentationS-3804 increases sending district representation on a receiving district’s board of education in certain circumstances.  This bill would effectuate the goals of a 2020 Delegate Assembly resolution that would lower the threshold for two or more sending districts to have a seat on the receiving board from 15% to 10%. Under the bill, those districts that cannot qualify for a voting seat under the proposed standard would be eligible for a nonvoting seat. Currently, the bill is only applicable to one district in Warren County. NJSBA will be working with the sponsor to expand the bill to all similarly-situated districts throughout the state. The bill may now be posted for a Senate floor vote.

Expedited Certification Route for Paraprofessionals A-5416/S-3883 would require the New Jersey State Board of Education to authorize an alternate, expedited route to teacher certification for paraprofessionals and instructional assistants. In developing the requirements for that expedited certification, the commissioner of education would be required to consult with representatives of the education community, including the New Jersey School Boards Association. The expedited route would include a formula for applying direct classroom service to any student teaching requirements, a formula for a GPA waiver, and “a requirement that the school district in which the candidate is currently employed make every reasonable effort to permit the candidate to perform any required student teaching in the school district while, if possible, continuing employment as a paraprofessional or an instructional assistant.” The NJSBA supports the bill.

As detailed in  a May 31, 2023, School Board Notes article, a previous version of the bill passed by the Assembly in May, included language that NJSBA worried may have been interpreted as requiring school districts to offer a paraprofessional pursuing teacher certification a spot as a student teacher. Believing that such decisions should be made locally and on an individual basis, the NJSBA, in coordination with several other education stakeholder associations, advocated for and obtained amendments preserving that local personnel decision-making authority. The bill next heads to the Senate floor for further consideration.

Student Teacher Stipend Program A-5420/S-3886 would establish the New Jersey Student Teacher Scholarship Program in the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. Under the program, HESAA, in coordination with the NJDOE, would award scholarships of up to $7,200, which may be increased to include a cost-of-living adjustment, to eligible students for each semester of full-time clinical practice completed by the student at a New Jersey school, for up to two semesters. NJSBA supports the bill. A-5420 passed the Assembly in May 2023. It now heads to the Senate floor for further consideration.

Fire Academy Course CreditS-3901 requires school districts to award students high school graduation credits in health, safety and physical education for completing a county fire academy course under certain circumstances. This bill would permit those students who have completed coursework at a county fire academy to be eligible under Option II to receive health, safety and physical education credits toward graduation based on that experience. NJSBA supports the bill.

School Discipline Guidance S-4037 directs the New Jersey Department of Education to develop guidelines consistent with federal guidance concerning school discipline in school districts. The bill requires the NJDOE to distribute such guidelines to local school districts.  The purpose of the guidelines is to assist districts in enhancing school climate and improving school discipline policies and practices, including ensuring that discipline practices are applied in an equitable and nondiscriminatory manner.  The guidelines would be consistent with the federal guidelines issued in 2014, would address any racial disparities or disproportionate impacts associated with current practices and would include best practices to improve school climate and create positive discipline practices.  NJSBA supports the bill, which may now be posted for a Senate floor vote.

Sikh InstructionSR-108, a non-binding resolution, urges the State Board of Education to require school districts to incorporate Sikhism instruction into the existing social studies curriculum and the Commission on Asian American Heritage to coordinate with local school officials to develop relevant course material. NJSBA is monitoring the resolution.

Filling Vacancies on Regional BOEsS-2158 provides that in certain cases, a vacancy in membership of a board of education of a limited purpose regional school district will be filled by a majority vote of board of education constituent districts represented by the former board member. NJSBA supports this bill, which would give the power to fill a vacancy on a limited purpose regional school district to the local constituent district.  This bill, if enacted into law, would fulfill an NJSBA policy goal as set by the Delegate Assembly in 2020. The legislation was considered “for discussion only” and did not receive a vote.

Eliminating “Basic Skills” Teacher Certification Requirement The committee discussed, but did not vote on, S-3884/A-5419, which would prohibit the State Board of Education from requiring teacher candidates to complete a Commissioner-approved test of basic reading, writing, and math skills (including but not limited to the Praxis Core assessment) in order to obtain a certificate of eligibility, certificate of eligibility with advanced standing, provisional, or standard instructional certificate.

Assembly Higher Education Committee

On Nov. 20, the committee advanced the following bill, which is aimed at alleviating teacher shortages:

Transferring of County College Credits to Meet EPP Requirements A-5417 would prohibit educator preparation programs from restricting the number of accredited county college professional education credits that may be used to meet the teacher certification requirements of an educator preparation program, except as may be required by the EPP’s accrediting organization. The bill would also prohibit the New Jersey Department of Education from restricting the number of accredited county college credits in professional education that can be accepted toward meeting teacher certification requirements, provided that the credits are accepted by an EPP (in April 2023, the State Board of Education adopted amendments to its certification regulations that removed the six-credit limit on courses in professional education completed on the two-year college level). The bill is part of the legislative package spearheaded by Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Pamela Lampitt to address the ongoing teacher shortage. The NJSBA supports the package. A-5417 was approved by the Assembly Education Committee in May, and next heads to the Assembly floor for further consideration. Its Senate counterpart, S-3890, was approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee in June, and awaits further action by the Senate.

Governor Action

Alternate CE Without Basic Skills Requirement On Nov. 27, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill into law (S-1553 / P.L.2023, c.180) requiring the State Board of Education to create an “alternative certificate of eligibility” that does not require teacher candidates to satisfy the “basic skills” requirement of the traditional CE. Under the new law, a teacher candidate will be eligible for the alternative CE if they meet all requirements to receive a CE except the requirement to pass a commissioner-approved test of basic reading, writing and math skills and all other basic skills requirements or exceptions. To be clear, the basic skills requirement – which teacher candidates may satisfy by passing the Praxis Core or by achieving a score in the top-half percentile of the SAT, ACT, or GRE in the year they took the test (adjusted from top-third percentile in the NJDOE’s amendments to its certification regulations adopted earlier this year) – remains in place for the “traditional” CE. P.L.2023, c.180 creates a separate, alternative CE that does not include a basic skills requirement.

Alternative CE holders will be eligible to receive their standard certificate upon completion of four years of continuous employment as a teacher in a school district, charter school, renaissance school, or approved private school for students with disabilities, provided they complete all applicable requirements for the standard. The law additionally specifies that alternative CE holders may not be required to meet any additional qualifications for tenure acquisition, and that employment under an alternative CE must accrue toward eligibility for tenure the same as employment under a CE.

The law goes into effect immediately.

The NJSBA supported S-1553 as it moved through the legislative process.  Its signature follows the February 2023 initial recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force on School Staff Shortages, which included “study[ing] the impact of eliminating the mandatory Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators exam” and stated that “[f]urther review is necessary for the requirements of the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators exams. Specifically, alternative pathways should be explored to allow for individuals that are otherwise qualified for certification but are struggling to pass the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators exam to move forward with certification.”

Additionally, the governor recently conditionally vetoed the following bills and returned them to the Legislature, which must concur with his recommendations before they can be signed into law:

Educator Scholarship Program On Nov. 20, the governor conditionally-vetoed a bill (A-3681) that would establish a scholarship program for college students enrolled in educator preparation programs. As initially sent to the governor, the bill’s New Jersey Educator Scholarship Program would have required scholarship recipients to, within five years of completing their educator prep programs, seek, accept, and maintain full-time employment as teaching staff members in a New Jersey public school for at least three full school years. The bill would have also required a scholarship recipient to repay certain aid amounts as a debt owed to the state under various circumstances, including if the recipient is dismissed from their program of study for academic or disciplinary reasons, becomes ineligible to receive their teaching certification, or does not complete the required three full years of employment in a public school district.

In his conditional veto, the governor applauded that the bill works to “attract more teachers to the field by … reducing out-of-pocket costs of completing an educator preparation program,” but cautioned that due to the bill’s repayment penalties, “[m]any well-intentioned students seeking to become teachers under the program may find themselves on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars.” “These penalties,” the governor continued, “risk making the bill’s scholarships unattractive to potential recipients and saddling students and recent graduates with unexpected debt at a time when many students are already overburdened with student loan debt.”

To address these concerns, the governor recommended revisions, “in close collaboration with the bill’s sponsors,” that remove the repayment penalties and remove the scholarship program’s post-graduation work requirements. Additional information may be found in the full conditional veto here. The governor’s recommendations await further action in the Legislature.

Electric School Bus Program Appropriation On Nov. 27, Murphy conditionally vetoed a bill (S-3044) that would have appropriated $15 million to fund the first year of the Electric School Bus Program authorized by P.L.2022, c.86. The governor’s conditional veto addresses a timing technicality. As initially sent to the governor, S-3044 appropriated the funds to the fiscal year 2023 budget; the governor’s conditional veto  moves the appropriation to the fiscal year 2024 budget. For additional information on the Electric School Bus Program, see the Aug. 9, 2022, School Board Notes article.

Compostable Food Waste On Nov. 27, the governor conditionally-vetoed a bill (S-3153) that would authorize a school to deliver compostable or anaerobically digestible food waste generated by that school to another school, as long as the receiving school accepts the waste and composts it in an in-vessel composting or anaerobic digestion system. As initially sent to the governor, the bill would have allowed this “without regard for any state laws, regulations, or district solid waste management plans to the contrary, and would prohibit the Department of Environmental Protection from requiring the receiving school to obtain a permit or other authorization under” various state laws. While commending the intent of the bill, the governor expressed concern that “the extent of the exemptions from applicable state laws and permitting requirements in the bill, as drafted, would cause the state to be out of compliance with the federal air pollution and water pollution control laws that the DEP is required to implement” and that “the bill does not provide adequate safeguards to ensure that school composting operations are conducted in an environmentally-sound manner,” and recommended adjustments to the bill’s exemptions. Additional information may be found in the full conditional veto here.

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