On Oct. 17, 2022, the Assembly Education Committee hosted a hearing on the issue of interrupted learning as a result of COVID-19. The committee also discussed – but did not vote on – A-4496, a bill that would make various revisions to school facility project processes and to the operations of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority. The Senate and various other Assembly committees also met over the last week to approve bills that would impact K-12 education.

Assembly Education Committee

The committee heard testimony from guests on the issue of interrupted learning. Educators highlighted successes and challenges in their districts developing and implementing learning acceleration and school climate programs to address the impact of interrupted learning due to COVID-19. The full hearing may be found on the Assembly Education Committee’s 10/17/2022 meeting webpage.

Revisions to School Facilities Law and SDA Operations: The committee also discussed A-4496, which would revise various provisions of law governing construction of school facilities projects and operations of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority. As introduced, the bill would:

Authorization of SDA School Facilities Projects:

  • Provide that all school facilities projects in SDA districts would be subject to prior authorization by the Legislature. Specifically, the SDA would be prohibited from expending any monies or undertaking any activities, except for site identification and investigation, related to the construction of the project until the Legislature has authorized the project.  Additionally, the SDA district will not apply to the NJDOE for project approval until the Legislature has authorized the project.
  • Require SDA to update its Statewide Strategic Plan to include a description of each project, the total estimated costs of each project and the number of full-time equivalent staff needed to support each project. In addition, the bill requires this plan to prioritize: (1) new construction projects; (2) projects located on land owned by the SDA district or other public entities; and (3) projects needed to replace school buildings that have been in use for 50 or more years.

Model School Designs:

  • Require the SDA, in consultation with the NJDOE, to establish three model school designs for the construction of elementary, middle and high school projects, respectively. These model school designs would establish uniform standards for the exterior and interior design of each category of school facilities projects.
  • Require all projects in SDA districts to conform to one of these model school designs. In addition, if a non-SDA district constructs a project that conforms to a model school design, the district aid percentage, which is used to calculate the district’s debt service aid, would be increased by 15%. In the event that an SDA district or a non-SDA district school facilities project requires the implementation of certain immodest or irregularly shaped structures, but otherwise conforms to a model school design, the SDA is required to provide prior approval of the structures.

School Facilities Projects of Charter and Renaissance Schools in SDA Districts:

  • Provide a state funding mechanism for school facilities projects undertaken by charter schools and renaissance school projects located in SDA districts. Charter schools and renaissance school projects located in SDA districts would be eligible to receive funding for 100% of the final eligible costs of the project.
  • To secure the funding, a charter school or renaissance school project would apply to the SDA for approval. The SDA would annually review the applications and thereafter create a statewide charter school and renaissance school project facilities strategic plan to be used in the sequencing of school facilities projects of charter schools and renaissance school projects in SDA districts. The statewide charter school and renaissance school project facilities strategic plan would include a statewide educational priority ranking of the school facilities projects based upon the SDA’s determination of critical need. The SDA, however, is prohibited from expending any funds for these projects, except for site identification and investigation, related to the construction of the project until the Legislature has authorized the project.

Regular Operating District Projects:

  • Allow a school district to raise bonds for a school facilities project without the approval of the voters of the district if the school district enters into a contract with one or more municipalities, wherein the municipality provides the district with not less than 60% of the payments in lieu of taxes received from one or more designated properties, and the district pledges those monies to the repayment of the bonds. However, after entering into the contract, the school district would also be required to apply to the commissioner before issuing the bonds without voter approval.
  • Permit the board of education of a Regular Operating District to enter into an agreement with a county improvement authority or municipal redevelopment agency to construct a school facilities project and to issue bonds to finance certain portions of the project.
  • Permit a board of education of a school district to draw against its capital reserve account to finance a portion of a project for which a school district and private entity enter into a public-private partnership agreement pursuant to current law.
  • Require RODs to ensure that their school facilities projects are overseen by a nonconflicted construction management service provider.
  • Require the NJDOE, in consultation with the SDA, to develop guidance concerning the provisions contained within construction contracts. This guidance would be designed to encourage the timely delivery of construction projects and would include sample provisions that may be included in future contracts.

Brownfield Site Remediation – SDA Projects:

  • Provide that if the SDA undertakes a school facilities project on behalf of a district, and the project will be constructed on a brownfield site, the SDA cannot be responsible for any remediation costs associated with the brownfield site. Under the bill, all remediation costs must be supported by the local share of the project, or any other funding provided by the state or federal government to address the remediation of brownfield sites.

SDA Finances and Operations:

  • Require that SDA’s administrative costs would be annually supported by state appropriations, rather than financed by EDA bonds.
  • Require the SDA to establish four funds in which the net proceeds of the bonds issued for school facilities projects, and any state appropriations for school facilities projects, would be deposited. The four funds are as follows: (1) the SDA District Project Fund; (2) the Regular Operating District Construction and Maintenance Grants Fund; (3) the Vocational-Technical School District Project Fund; and (4) the SDA District Emergent Project Fund.
  • Require the SDA to only employ staff for the purposes of program operations, construction operations, financial operations and compliance, and grant administration. Other operations of the SDA are to be managed by the following state agencies:
    • the Civil Service Commission, for human resource management.
    • the Office of the Attorney General, for the handling of the legal affairs of the SDA.
    • the Department of the Treasury, for facilities management and other administrative functions.
    • the Office of Information Technology, for the technological and information systems needs of the SDA.

The New Jersey School Boards Association has been actively engaged in the legislation and provided verbal and written testimony to the committee, identifying several questions and concerns that should be addressed should the bill continue to move through the legislative process.

Senate Voting Session

Also on Oct. 17, the Senate held a voting session. In addition to advancing the bills listed below, the Senate voted to accept the governor’s recommendations on the “edTPA bill,” S-896, that he issued through conditional veto in September. The Senate needs to vote once more on the bill, then forward it to the Assembly for approval before it can go back to the governor’s desk. Along with several other education organizations, the NJSBA strongly supports the bill, which is designed to remove an impediment to entering the teaching profession.

The Senate also approved the following bills. Unless indicated otherwise, they now head to the Assembly for further consideration:

Suicide Prevention Training S-528 would require additional school district personnel to complete a training program on suicide prevention. Under current law, public school teaching staff members receive instruction in suicide prevention as part of their professional development requirements. This bill provides that a school district employee who is not subject to the current requirement, and an employee of a contracted service provider who has regular contact with students would be required to complete a one-time training program in suicide prevention, awareness and response identified by the NJDOE. The bill also specifies certain circumstances under which a person required by this bill to complete the training would have a duty to warn and protect. NJSBA supports the measure. In a previous session, the NJSBA obtained amendments to ensure that the required training would be provided free of charge.

Smartphone/Social Media Impact Study S-715 would establish a “Commission on the Effects of Smartphone and Social Media Usage on Adolescents” to study the extent of smartphone and social media usage in public schools, and to determine the effects that use has on students’ physical and emotional health and academic performance. The NJSBA supports the bill and would be one of several education organizations that would have a representative on the commission.

Learning Loss Reports S-2268 would require the NJDOE to review district-provided data to prepare two reports regarding the impact of COVID-19 on schools and students. The first report (“learning loss report”), due May 31, 2023, would be part of the statewide effort to analyze, understand and address the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on learning loss and create tangible strategies and tools to mitigate the impact pursuant to language and funding included in the fiscal year 2023 Appropriations Act. The second report would summarize the continuation of school services during COVID-19 and would be due by Sept. 30, 2023. The bill would require that data reviewed include, but need not be limited to, the dates of pauses in academic instruction as a result of COVID-19; a description of the instructional format provided by the district; data on the amount of class time students spent in synchronous and asynchronous remote learning; the percentage of students and teachers with access to reliable internet and technology and a description of the district’s efforts to ensure that access; and certain academic data, such as four-year adjusted cohort graduate rates, attendance rates and attendance policy. The NJSBA is monitoring the legislation.

School Mapping Data S-2426 would amend existing law that requires districts to share “blueprints and maps” with local law enforcement to instead require sharing of 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 NJSBA testified, expressing support for the concept, but seeking a funding mechanism to support districts’ implementation. The governor established such a funding mechanism Aug. 30, 2022, 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. Its Assembly counterpart, A-3835, has cleared committee and now awaits a final vote on the Assembly floor.

Nonpublic STEM Teacher Program S-2563 would modify the application process for the Teach STEM Classes in Nonpublic Schools program initially established by law in 2019. The program provides additional remuneration for public school teachers to teach STEM classes in nonpublic school settings during hours agreed upon by the teacher, their district and the nonpublic school. Under current law, a nonpublic school’s application to participate in the program must include acknowledgment from both the nonpublic school and the school district of the teacher’s schedule for providing STEM instruction at the nonpublic school. The bill would modify that process to allow a nonpublic school to apply to the program unilaterally. Following the nonpublic school’s notification to the school district that a teacher plans to participate in the program, the school district would have 10 business days to submit a “valid objection” to the commissioner of education. The bill also specifies how a participating teacher’s hourly wage would be determined. The bill now heads to governor’s desk. The NJSBA is monitoring the legislation.

International Student Exchange Program S-1975 would require organizations that place international student exchange visitors in New Jersey public schools to register with the commissioner of education. The bill specifies criteria that such organizations must meet to be eligible for registration, such as compliance with U.S. Department of State regulations on exchange visitor programs or other bodies that oversee such programs. The bill would require the NJDOE to annually create and distribute to school districts a list of all registered organizations. NJSBA supports the bill.

Assembly Labor Committee

The Assembly Labor Committee approved:

Tuition Fee Waiver for Apprenticeship CoursesA-2494 would require public institutions of higher education and county vocational schools, which serve as the classroom training or education component of a registered apprenticeship program, to waive post-secondary vocational education tuition fees for certain apprenticeship participants. The bill requires the state to provide funding to the IHE or county vocational school district for these tuition fee waivers. It now heads to the Assembly Higher Education Committee for further consideration. Its Senate counterpart, S-532, has also cleared one committee. The NSJBA supports the bill.

Teacher Advertising Campaign A-3586 would require NJDOE, in consultation with the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, to establish a multimedia advertising campaign to attract candidates to the teacher and education support professions. The campaign would emphasize recruitment from underrepresented racial groups and into high-demand fields. The bill now awaits further action in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. NJSBA supports the bill.

Identifying Military Students A-292 requires the Department of Education to maintain an indicator for military-connected students in its student-level database. The bill also requires the commissioner of education to annually report statistics on the academic engagement and outcomes of these students, including attendance rates, performance on the state assessments and high school graduation rates. The bill also allows a parent or guardian to opt their child out of being identified as a military-connected student by the school district. If a parent or guardian opts their child out of being identified as a military-connected student by the school district, the amendments clarify that the student’s classroom teacher will not be notified upon enrollment. The bill now heads to the Assembly Education Committee for further consideration. Its Senate counterpart, S-87, has cleared the Senate Education Committee. NJSBA is monitoring the legislation.

Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology Committee

The Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology Committee approved:

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, and to include the school library media specialist in the development of curriculum concerning information literacy whenever possible. The legislation now heads to the Assembly floor for further consideration.

Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee

On Oct.13, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved:

Educator Scholarship Program S-2661 would establish the New Jersey Educator Scholarship Program. The program would award 50 scholarships annually to college students who, within five years of graduating and completing an educator preparation program, accept full-time employment as a teacher in a New Jersey public school for at least three full school years. The three years of employment may be nonconsecutive and may be divided between multiple public school districts in New Jersey. The bill specifies that the NJDOE may establish additional eligibility requirements and minimum qualifications for participation in the program, including limiting scholarships to students pursuing degrees in content areas facing a shortage of teachers. If a scholarship recipient does not complete three full years of employment as a teacher in a New Jersey public school within five years of graduating and completing their educator preparation program, they must repay the amount of the scholarship, prorated against the duration of their employment.

In June, the Senate Education Committee amended the bill in several ways that distinguish it from its counterpart Assembly measure that passed the Assembly Education Committee in May. The Senate bill:

  • Limits scholarships to 18 credits. Additionally, whereas the Assembly bill would only grant scholarships to students in public institutions of higher education, the Senate bill would provide scholarships to eligible students in any New Jersey institution of higher education but would limit the amount of the scholarship to the average in-state tuition charged by four-year public institutions of higher education.
  • Makes clear that students may qualify for these scholarships if they accept full-time employment in charter or renaissance school projects.

The NJSBA supports the bill. It next heads to the Senate floor for further consideration.

Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee Labor Committee

SEHBP/SHBP Claims Data S-3049 requires various data points to be included in the State Health Benefits Program and the School Employees’ Health Benefits Program claims experience data that is provided to public employers. The bill amends an existing law that permits local governing bodies that participate in the SHBP or SEHBP to request, not more than once every two years, claims experience data from the state. Under the bill, the data can be requested annually. The bill was introduced in response to the significant premium increases for the SHBP and SEHBP that will go into effect in 2023. NJSBA supports the bill and obtained amendments to ensure that it applies to school districts, as well as other governing bodies.

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