On Monday, Nov. 8, Gov. Phil Murphy acted on approximately 90 bills that the Legislature sent to his desk before going into recess this summer, including over a dozen school-related proposals. The following is rundown of those measures.
The governor approved the following bills. Unless otherwise indicated, they took effect immediately.
Addressing School Nurse Shortage A-4544/S-3150 permits a certified school nurse who is retired from the teachers pension system to return to work full time as a certified school nurse with a board of education without being reenrolled in the system. Such nurses would be permitted to return to work under a contract for one year, which may be renewed for one additional year. Employment beyond two years would require the approval of the Commissioner of Education. The bill’s provisions mirror those concerning the employment of retired superintendents on an interim basis. NJSBA supported the bill, which aims to alleviate the statewide shortage of school nurses.
Suicide Prevention/Student ID Cards S-550/A-1616 would require that identification cards for students in grades seven through 12 have the telephone number for a suicide prevention hotline printed on the back of the card. The bill takes effect at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year.
School Bus Driver Safety A-5817/S-3852 amends current law to hold a board of education or school bus contractor responsible if they approve or assign an individual, as a driver or substitute driver of a school bus, without first complying with existing provisions of law concerning the training, certification, and criminal history record checks of school bus drivers.
Bus Contractor Blacklist A-5818/S-3849 provides that a list be posted on the New Jersey Department of Education’s website of people who, because of a variety of illegal acts, are not allowed to bid on pupil transportation contracts. This list would be distributed to each school district and board of education in the state by March 1 of each year. Under the bill, the NJDOE is required to blacklist any person who fails to comply with rules pertaining to the qualification of school bus drivers and school bus inspections. The commission of a criminal offense while attempting to obtain a public or private contract would be grounds for blacklisting. The commission of a criminal offense, including child abuse or sexual misconduct involving a child, would also be grounds to prevent a person from bidding on a pupil transportation contract. While the governor signed this measure into law, it will not become effective until the enactment of separate legislation (S-3851/A-5814) that would create a school bus safety ombudsman position in the state Department of Education. That measure has passed the full Assembly and is pending Senate approval. In addition, it will only apply to future pupil transportation contracts.
Expedited Alt Route Certification S-3253/A-2619 would require the state Board of Education to authorize an alternate route to expedite the certification of job candidates to teach grades seven through 12 at an early college high school. The alternate route will consist of a three-tiered certificate program, similar to the alternate route provided for charter school teachers. This certification would be used only for employment at an early college high school, not in any other public school.
Impact Aid S-3948/A-5896 establishes an additional category of school aid known as “military impact aid” and authorizes supplemental state aid to certain districts receiving federal impact aid. The Federal Impact Aid Program provides financial assistance to school districts that include within their boundaries parcels of land owned by the federal government or that are exempt from local taxation. According to a statement from the bill’s sponsors, the legislation would “provide increased state aid for school districts whose property taxpayers have had to shoulder the burden caused by past cuts in federal payments to local districts for the education of the children of active-duty military personnel.” The FY2022 state budget stipulates that funding from the new “stabilization aid” category will first be directed to districts entitled to military impact aid under this bill.
Bills Conditionally Vetoed
The following bills were returned to the Legislature with recommended changes, which the Legislature can accept or attempt to override. The NJSBA is reviewing the conditional veto recommendations and will provide additional details on these measures once they receive final approval:
Student Journalists’ Rights S-108/A-169: Concerns speech rights of student journalists at public schools and public institutions of higher education. The NJSBA worked with its partners in other educational associations and successfully secured conditional veto language that will ensure that students have the right to speak freely while preserving the ability of school administrators to maintain the safe and orderly operation of the school district.
Regionalization S-3488/A-5537: Modifies certain procedures pertaining to school district regionalization; establishes grant program for cost reimbursement of conducting regionalization feasibility studies; and provides financial incentives for regionalization.
Special Education Unit S-2160/A-5701: Creates a special education unit within the Office of Administrative Law; requires annual report.
Culturally Responsive Teaching S-2834/A-5312: Mandates training on culturally responsive teaching for all candidates for teaching certification.
Robotics S-2204/A-2455: Establishes pilot program in the state Department of Education to support FIRST Robotics Programs in school districts
Youth Services Program Grants A-4435/S-2717: Requires the New Jersey Department of Children and Families to give priority to certain school districts with student mental health counseling centers in awarding grants under the School Based Youth Services Program.
Mental Health Partnerships A-4433/S-2715: Creates a grant program to encourage school districts to partner with institutions of higher education in training school-based mental health services providers.
Loan Redemption S-969/A-2687: Establishes a loan redemption program for teachers in certain fields to redeem loan amounts received under New Jersey College Loans to Assist State Students Loan Program through employment in certain low performing schools.
“Lame Duck” Session Gets Underway
Following a summer hiatus and election season, the Legislature returned to activity on Monday, Nov. 8. That kicked off the portion of the two-year legislative session commonly referred to as “lame duck,” which is typically a very busy time at the State House and takes place between the November elections and when the new Legislature gets sworn into office in January. Several committees, including the Senate Education Committee, convened Monday, Nov. 8, and advanced various bills affecting local school districts. A summary of each follows below.
Senate Education Committee
BOE Student Representative S-1219/A-3392: Requires that at least one student representative be appointed to each board of education of a school district and board of trustees of any charter school that includes grades nine through 12. The student is to be selected by the student body. In the event that there is more than one high school in the district, the position will rotate among the high schools. The representative shall attend all meetings, present to the board on matters of student concern and provide a monthly report to the student body. The student representative would have no vote and will not be permitted in closed session. NJSBA supports the bill. The bill, which has already passed the Assembly, now heads to the full Senate for its consideration.
District Website Accessibility S-3094/A-4856: Requires websites and web services of school districts, charter schools, and renaissance schools to be accessible to persons with disabilities. The NJSBA supports the concept of the bill but has asked for this requirement to be funded. The bill, which passed the Assembly earlier this year, will be heard next by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
Information Literacy Curriculum S-3464: Requires instruction on information literacy in curriculum of students in grades kindergarten through 12. The bill directs the commissioner of education, in consultation with the New Jersey state librarian, to develop curriculum guidelines on information literacy to be used by school districts. The bill now heads to the full Senate for its consideration.
AAPI Instruction S-4021: Requires school districts to provide instruction on history and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as part of the implementation of New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Social Studies. The bill now heads to the full Senate for its consideration.
School Security Drills S-3726: Aims to ensure students’ well-being during school security drills by dictating certain measures that must be taken in advance of, during, or after conducting such a drill. According to the sponsor, the legislation would ensure that lockdown drills take into consideration the impact these drills can have on the mental health of students, while continuing the safety preparations for students should an intruder appear at a school. This bill requires that a school district must ensure that a school security drill occurs when students are present, and:
- Is conducted only after advance written notice has been provided to staff.
- Includes clear messaging to students and staff that the event is a drill and that no current danger exists.
- Does not expose students to content or imaging that is not developmentally or age-appropriate.
- Is paired with trauma-informed approaches to address any student inquiries or concerns that may arise as a result of a school security drill.
- Does not include the use of fake blood, real or prop firearms, or the simulations of gun shots, explosions, or other sounds or visuals that may induce panic or a traumatic response from a student or employee.
- Does not require a student to role play as a victim, but it may include first aid training in which students participate.
- Is accessible to students with disabilities and mental health conditions, and provides all necessary accommodations for these students.
The NJSBA expressed support for the bill’s intent, while raising some concerns. As introduced, the bill would have prohibited emergency personnel from being present during security drills. Working with its partners at the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, the NJSBA successfully obtained amendments to remove that prohibition, so personnel will continue to monitor such drills and coordinate with school personnel on ways to improve their response to a real emergency. The NJSBA also supported the removal of a proposed requirement that districts provide advance notification to students’ parents or guardians that a drill has been scheduled. Instead, they will receive notification after one has occurred. The NJSBA is continuing discussions with the bill sponsors on ways to improve the bill so that students and staff are sufficiently prepared to respond to an emergency but without causing them any emotional or mental stress as result of a drill.
STEM Teachers Loan Redemption S-4073: Would make $20 million available for student loan redemption for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics teachers. To qualify, a prospective teacher must be graduating in the 2021-2022 academic year with a STEM degree. The teacher would need to agree to teach STEM in a New Jersey public school for four years. The amount of loan redemption would equal 25% of the participant’s eligible student loan or tuition expenses. However, awards will not exceed $20,000 for any eligible individual. NJSBA supports the bill, which has been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
Alternate Basic Skills Testing for CTEs S-4074: Eliminates the requirement to pass a basic skills test to become a career and technical educator. As an alternative, a prospective CTE can demonstrate basic skills proficiency in a manner to be determined by the NJDOE. NJSBA supports the bill, which is now primed for a Senate floor vote.
Streamlined Maintenance and Capital Improvement Project Approvals S-4075: Suspends for three years the requirement for NJDOE to approve any school facilities or capital maintenance project that is noninstructional or noneducational in nature. The suspension of this requirement would begin for the 2022-2023 school year and sunset following 2024-2025. NJSBA supports the bill, which can be posted for a vote by the full Senate.
Assembly Military and Veterans Affairs Committee
Enrolling Students of Military Families A-5694: Permits dependents of a military member to enroll in a school district in advance of the military member’s relocation to the district. The NJSBA supports this bill and successfully got an amendment to clarify that military families should present a copy of their relocation orders to the district prior to their enrollment in the district. The bill now heads to the full Assembly for consideration.
Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee
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 bill, which must go before the Assembly Appropriations Committee before being posted for a floor vote.
Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee
Teacher Workforce Data S-2835: Would establish the following reporting requirements concerning the current and projected teacher workforce in New Jersey:
- School districts will annually submit to the New Jersey commissioner of education information for the current school year on teaching positions, (e.g., vacant positions, the number of new teaching positions, the number of positions that were eliminated and anticipated teacher retirements).
- School districts will also annually submit to the commissioner information on public school teacher retention, including the number of and reasons why teachers left employment with the district during the prior school year. The information would show the characteristics of the teachers who left the district, including age, sex, race and tenure status.
- The New Jersey Education to Earnings Data System will issue a report on teacher workforce projections for the state for the following two years. After the issuance of this initial report, the Education to Earnings Data System will issue an annual report on teacher workforce projections for the subsequent three to five years.
- The Executive Leadership Council of the New Jersey Education to Earnings Data System will semiannually report to the Legislature on the progress of the annual teacher workforce projection report.