On Monday, Sept. 12, the Senate Education Committee met for the first time since the Legislature went on summer recess, and advanced measures related to school funding and security, along with several other proposals of significance to NJSBA and its members.
Revamped School Funding Measure Advances
The committee approved Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 119, sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney, which establishes a “State School Aid Funding Fairness Commission.” The commission would be charged with studying various issues related to school funding. SCR-119 is substantively similar to legislation (S-2372) the Senate Education Committee advanced earlier this year, which would also create a State School Aid Funding Fairness Commission. The primary difference between the two proposals is that S-2372, a Senate bill, would have required the governor’s approval to go into effect, whereas the resolution only needs to obtain legislative passage and would not go to the governor’s desk. The resolution also grants legislative leadership, not the governor, sole authority to make appointments to the commission.
The six-member commission would consist of two appointees named by the Senate president, two from the speaker of the General Assembly, and one appointee from each minority leader of the Senate and Assembly. All of the appointees must have knowledge and experience in public school finance and state budgeting. They would be tasked with examining such issues as:
- The impact of adjustment aid and the state aid growth limits under the “School Funding Reform Act of 2008” (SFRA) on the fairness of the formula, to make recommendations for revising those provisions in order to fully fund the SFRA over a five-year period, and to bring fair and equitable funding to all school districts for enrollment growth over a multi-year period;
- The tax levy growth limitation and its impact on the ability of districts to adequately fund operating expenses;
- The per-pupil administrative cost limit and its impact on district staffing and operations;
- The equalized valuation and income measures used to determine a district’s local share of its adequacy budget and the impact of property tax abatements on that local share; and
- The ability of a school district that is at or above its adequacy budget to lower its school tax levy in the event that additional state aid is provided under any legislation that will implement the commission’s recommendations.
If the resolution is approved, the commission will be required to issue a report on its findings and recommendations by the end of June 2017. To facilitate the implementation of those recommendations, the report must be accompanied by proposed legislation that will bypass committee review and go directly to the floor of each house for an “up-and-down” vote. Public hearings will be held around the state while the commission conducts its study, as well as after it submits its final report and proposed legislation.
NJSBA supports SCR-119 in concept. The Association believes that the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) can work if it is implemented as originally designed. This resolution creates a study commission that will be charged with studying the various problems with the way the law is currently operating. Most significantly, the study commission will attempt to address the current inequitable distribution of aid causing some districts to be “over-aided” while others receive less than the adequacy allocations required by the original law. NJSBA believes that it is in the best interests of all our member districts to receive the amounts of aid originally promised by the SFRA. The ultimate goal of the proposed “Funding Fairness Commission” created by the resolution will be to recommend a methodology that provides each district with the appropriate formula amount based on accurate measures of their enrollment and their local ability to pay.
Movement on School Security Initiatives
The committee also released a handful of bills related to school safety and security, all of which are supported by NJSBA:
A-191/S-2313 requires school buildings to be equipped with an emergency light and panic alarm that is linked to local law enforcement. The legislation, which has been vetoed twice by the governor, includes the Association’s recommended amendments that inserted a source of funding to offset school districts’ implementation costs.
A-209 excludes certain increases in school security expenditures from the tax levy cap applicable to school districts. Under current law, school districts may increase their tax levies, with certain exceptions, by no more than two percent relative to the prior budget year. This bill provides that any annual increase in expenditures on school security costs in excess of two percent incurred by a school district will be excluded from the limit.
A-3348/S-2439 requires certain school security measures to be incorporated in the architectural design of new school construction and certain school security measures for existing buildings. This bill implements recommendations of the New Jersey School Security Task Force. NJSBA supports this bill.
A-3349/S-2438 would implement various recommendations of the New Jersey School Security Task Force related to school security drills. First, it provides that an actual fire or school security emergency will be considered a “drill” for the purposes of meeting the requirements of the School Security Drill Law. Second, it requires a law enforcement officer to be present for at least one drill each school year so he or she can make recommendations for improvements or changes. Third, it expands the definition of “school security drill” to include practice procedures for responding to a bomb threat. It also provides that all school district employees will be provided with annual training on school safety and security. Current law stipulates that such training is only provided once to teaching staff members. In addition, the bill requires annual training to be conducted collaboratively with emergency responders in order to identify weaknesses in school security policies and procedures while increasing the effectiveness of emergency responders.
The committee also advanced the following measures:
S-1010 directs the commissioner of education to work with the national nonprofit organization, Natural High, to implement the Natural High Drug Prevention Program in each school district. The bill, which NJSBA supports, also appropriates $40,000 for the purpose of implementing the program.
S-1474 provides that the State Board of Education must require that the preparation program for an instructional certificate include a minimum of six semester credit hours of classroom instruction or clinical experience in special education. The bill also requires that the preparation program for an instructional certificate for a teacher of students with disabilities endorsement include credit hours in autism spectrum disorder to address the educational needs of students with autism. NJSBA supports the legislation.
S-2323 requires that teachers appointed to teach health, health and physical education, or physical education in grades kindergarten through six possess the appropriate endorsement to their instructional certificate. The NJSBA did not take a public stance on the measure. However, the Association supports the bill’s “grandfather” provision, which will permit any teacher who has obtained an elementary school endorsement prior to the bill’s effective date to continue teaching health and/or physical education without obtaining the appropriate endorsements in those subject areas. This provision acknowledges the need to grant school districts adequate time and flexibility to comply with the new endorsement requirement.
S-2396 requires the State to pay the educational costs of students who reside in a homeless shelter outside the district of residence for more than one year. NJSBA supports the measure.
SJR-40 designates the second Friday of December of each year as “Paraprofessional and School-Related Personnel (PSRPs) in Our Schools Day” in New Jersey to recognize the contributions of paraprofessionals and school-related personnel.
SR-66 urges the President of the United States to establish a Presidential Youth Council.