On Thursday, the full Senate convened for a voting session and approved legislation that would provide financial assistance for educators who teach STEM subjects.  It also advanced a bill aimed at strengthening public school districts’ gifted and talented programs.  A summary of both bills follows below.

STEM Teacher Loan Redemption

The Senate unanimously approved S-1832 which establishes a loan redemption and tuition reimbursement program for public school teachers who teach STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes.  Under the loan redemption program, the redemption of loans will equal 25% of the participant’s eligible student loan expenses, up to $5,000, in return for each consecutive year of full-time employment as a teacher of a STEM subject area in a public school.  The total amount of eligible student loan expenses which may be redeemed under the program, for four full school years, cannot exceed $20,000.  The program will provide for the loan redemption following the fourth consecutive year of full-time employment.

The bill directs the N.J. Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) to give priority to teachers of STEM subjects employed in a low-performing public school.  The bill defines a “low- performing public school” as one in which either:

1) in the prior two school years, the sum of the percent of students scoring in the “not yet meeting expectations” and “partially meeting expectations” categories in both the language arts and mathematics subject areas exceeded 40%, or

2) in the prior two school years, the sum of the percent of students scoring in these categories in either the language arts or mathematics subject areas exceeded 65%.

The tuition reimbursement program will provide for the reimbursement of a portion of the eligible tuition expenses incurred by a program participant in completing a master’s degree or Ph.D. program in a STEM subject or in completing 30 credits in a coherent sequence of courses in a STEM subject.  An eligible participant for tuition reimbursement must teach STEM classes at a public school for four years to receive the reimbursement.

NJSBA supports the legislation, which has yet to be taken up in the Assembly.

Strengthening Gifted & Talented Education

A-4710/S-3258, known as the “Strengthening Gifted and Talented Education Act,” establishes various school district responsibilities in educating gifted and talented students.

The bill codifies a provision in existing regulations that requires boards of education to ensure appropriate instructional adaptations and educational services are provided to gifted and talented students in kindergarten through grade 12 to enable them to participate in, benefit from, and demonstrate knowledge and application of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards.  Under the bill, a school district would be required to:

  • ensure that appropriate instructional adaptations are designed for gifted and talented students;
  • make provisions for an ongoing identification process for gifted and talented students that includes multiple measures to identify student strengths in intellectual ability, creativity, or a specific academic area;
  • develop and document appropriate curricular and instructional modifications used for gifted and talented students indicating content, process, products, and learning environment;
  • take into consideration the gifted programming standards, position statements, and white papers of the National Association for Gifted Children in identifying and serving gifted and talented students;
  • provide the time and resources to develop, review, and enhance instructional tools with modifications for helping gifted and talented students acquire and demonstrate mastery of the required knowledge and skills specified by the standards in one or more content areas at the instructional level of the student, not just the student’s grade level; and
  • actively assist and support professional development for teachers, educational services staff, and school leaders in the area of gifted and talented instruction.

The bill also requires the N.J. Commissioner of Education to appoint a coordinator for gifted and talented services, who will be responsible for providing support by identifying and sharing research and resources to school districts as they develop, implement, and review their local gifted and talented services.  The coordinator will also be responsible for reviewing the information about gifted and talented services provided by each school district to support the bill’s implementation. Every school district will be required to file periodically with the coordinator a report that includes various information regarding its gifted and talented services.

The bill requires the commissioner of education to develop a protocol by which any individual who believes that a school district has not complied with the provisions of the legislation may file a complaint with the board of education.  The board shall issue a decision, in writing, to affirm, reject, or modify the district’s action in the matter. Such a decision may be appealed to the commissioner of education.

The bill also requires school districts to post detailed information on their websites regarding the policies and procedures used to identify students as gifted and talented and the continuum of services offered within the district.

The bill now returns to the General Assembly, which approved a previous version of the bill in May.  If passed and signed by Gov. Murphy, the measure would go into effect in the 2020-2021 school year.  NJSBA supports the bill.