On Tuesday, Oct. 19, the Joint Committee of the Public Schools convened a hearing to receive testimony from various invited guests on the issue of school reopening. Co-chaired by Sen. Ronald Rice and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, the Joint Committee is a bicameral, bipartisan legislative body that provides an ongoing study of the system of free public schools, its financing, administration and operations, as well as to make recommendations for legislative action.

The New Jersey School Boards Association was invited to testify and was represented by Jonathan Pushman, director of governmental relations. In testimony to the committee,  Pushman and other stakeholders discussed the myriad challenges school districts have been experiencing since schools opened for full-time, in-person instruction last month, such as staffing shortages and the toll the pandemic has taken on the physical and mental health of students and staff. They also expressed collective support for a number of ways that the legislature can act to assist school districts once the Senate and Assembly return from recess following the November election. These include:

  • Advocating for the federal government to ease Commercial Driver License requirements to help alleviate the shortage of school bus drivers.
  • Flexibility around the 2% property tax levy cap for districts losing state aid or as necessary to procure COVID-related expenses.
  • Repeal of the state residency requirement for newly hired public employees, including school staff, to increase the pool of potential job applicants.
  • Legislation to allow retired teachers to return to the classroom, on at least a temporary basis, to fill staff vacancies.
  • Relief from the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum monitoring system in the current school year.
  • Streamlining the teacher certification process without sacrificing quality.
  • Directing at least a portion of billions of unallocated funds the state received through the federal American Rescue Plan to local school districts.
  • Avoiding the imposition of any additional mandates that will unnecessarily interfere with district operations during these challenging times.

Pushman also spent time highlighting the findings and recommendations of the NJSBA’s most recent report on education during the pandemic – Rebuilding Opportunities for Students. The culmination of the work of the NJSBA Committee on Post-Pandemic Gaps in Academic and Social-Emotional Learning, the report provides guidance and information to boards of education and administrators as they implement strategies designed to meet their students’ academic and social-emotional needs in the current school year and beyond. The report includes 15 recommendations on ways that districts can assess the academic and emotional impact of the pandemic on their students and develop strategies to address individual needs.

A copy of the NJSBA’s written testimony to the committee can be found here.

Other stakeholders from the K-12 education community who provided testimony to the committee included representatives of the New Jersey Education Association, New Jersey Association of School Administrators, New Jersey  Principals and Supervisors Association, Garden State Coalition of Schools, Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, and the New Jersey Public Charter Schools Association.

A video recording of the hearing is available on the New Jersey Legislature’s website here.