Last week, Gov. Phil Murphy signed the following education-related measures into law:

Student Depression Screenings  A-970/S-2259 (P.L. 2021, c. 237) Establishes the “Mental Health Screening in Schools Grant Program” in the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE). School districts would be able to apply for funding and resources to implement annual depression screening programs to identify students in grades seven through 12 who are at risk of depression. The bill places a variety of conditions on any school districts receiving a grant under the program, including:

  • The school district shall use a research-based screening tool.
  • The screenings shall be conducted in a manner that permits real time evaluation of the results.
  • The school district shall ensure that the screenings will be able to accommodate bilingual education students, students with disabilities, and students with low reading proficiency.
  • Assurances that student privacy will be protected and that parental consent be obtained prior to administering a screening on a student.

The bill appropriates $1 million to fund the grant program. The law will go into effect at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year.

Earlier versions of this legislation would have required all school boards to ensure that every student in grades seven through 12 receive an annual screening for depression. However, the bill was amended just before receiving final legislative approval to create this grant program instead of establishing a new mandate. NJSBA supported this revised, voluntary approach.

STEM Opportunities for Young Women and Minorities  A-1625/S-2854 (P.L. 2021, c. 239) Aims to increase representation of young women and minorities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degree programs and careers.

As enacted, the measure directs the New Jersey Department of Education, in consultation with the federal Office of the Secretary of Higher Education and the Commission on Science, Innovation and Technology, to develop and administer an outreach program to encourage young women and minorities to pursue post-secondary degrees and careers in STEM fields. In developing and administering the outreach program, the NJDOE is to provide elementary and secondary school students, especially young women and minorities, with opportunities to increase their exposure to the STEM fields. The NJDOE also will establish a STEM mentoring program and create programs to increase the recruitment and retention of underrepresented faculty in STEM subject areas.

For the purposes of this bill, the term STEM includes computer science, as well as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. NJSBA supported the measure.

Food Insecurity The following bills, which the NJSBA supported, are aimed at addressing food insecurity. The first two provide additional funds to school districts offering school meal programs:

  • A-5882/S-3943 (L. 2021, c. 246) Requires the state to provide a 10-cent per meal supplement to the existing federal reimbursement to operators of federal summer food service programs and the Seamless Summer Option. The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), administered by the state Department of Agriculture, provides free, nutritious meals and snacks to help children in low-income areas get the nutrition they need to learn, play and grow throughout the summer months when they are out of school. The summer option program combines features of the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, and Summer Food Service Program. This option reduces paperwork and administrative burden, making it easier for schools to feed children from low-income areas during the traditional summer vacation periods. This law goes into effect on June 1, 2022.
  • A-5883/S-3944 (L. 2021, c. 247) Requires the state to provide a 10-cent per breakfast supplement to the existing federal reimbursement to a school district with schools that participate in the federal school breakfast program by providing “breakfast after the bell.” In 2018, Gov. Murphy signed legislation that requires a public school in which 70% or more of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program or the federal School Breakfast Program to establish a “breakfast after the bell” program. This law will take effect at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year.
  • A-5884/S-3945 (L. 2021, c. 242) Establishes a state “Office of the Food Insecurity Advocate” to improve access to food relief programs, develop new policy initiatives to combat hunger, and serve as an advocate for food insecure residents.