Every two years in New Jersey, a new legislative session begins. The new session that began on Jan. 14 will last until Jan. 11, 2022. Already NJSBA’s governmental relations department is tracking 1,058 bills that have been introduced and would impact the education community in some way.

With every new legislative session, the NJSBA Board of Directors approves the Association’s Advocacy Agenda, which is designed to guide its activities over the next two years.

The agenda is based on NJSBA policy and was developed by the NJSBA Legislative Committee, a standing committee of the Association.

NJSBA’s Legislative Committee The committee’s mission is to encourage, promote and assist in the development of local, county and statewide legislative networks and to initiate policy recommendations for consideration by the NJSBA Board of Directors.

The committee, which meets four times a year, consists of a legislative representative and an alternate from each of the 40 legislative districts in New Jersey; committee members are appointed by the NJSBA president.

At meetings, members are briefed on the latest legislative action on the local and federal levels, and discuss state legislative proposals that affect boards of education. Often the meetings include guest speakers. Individual legislative committee members from each district are also encouraged to visit with local legislators to discuss areas of concern. 

The IssuesLegislative Committee discussions are geared toward the major issues affecting districts and are reflected in the advocacy agenda.

Not surprisingly, school funding is one of the main priorities of the committee and the agenda; other concerns include promoting standards, and advocating for changes to eliminate unnecessary regulations on school districts.

The overreliance on property taxes, reforming the state aid formula and increasing the funds available for school construction have also been high priorities. These issues remain key elements of the new agenda. Opposition to the use of public funds for non-public schools and direct state funding for existing charter schools continue to be the subject of ongoing conversations. The committee stresses the position that no reductions in state aid should take place after the state budget address and the view that any payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) should be directed to local education spending in the applicable districts.

The agenda also raises issues related to local governance, with preservation of local control as a prime goal. Agenda items include eliminating statutory protections of absolute seniority and advocating for changes to the last-in-first-out (LIFO) practice so that districts facing reductions in staff are provided flexibility in retaining the best teachers. 

Health care is also a priority, and advocating for the permanent continuation of health care premiums shared by board of education employees to ensure they continue to pay a fair share of the costs of health benefits is on the agenda. 

Board members are also encouraged to support the preservation of the managerial prerogative of boards of education to subcontract or privatize non-instructional staff and services when such action is in the financial and educational interests of the district and to oppose proposals that would extend tenure or tenure-like protections to non-certified staff.

Legislative Advocacy Agenda The 2020-2021 Advocacy Agenda was approved by the NJSBA Board of Directors in January. The agenda is below, and is organized into major subject areas.

Accountability
  • Promote the implementation of appropriate standards for school district performance.
  • Advocate for changes to statute and regulation that will eliminate the unnecessary administrative workload placed on school districts.
  • Advocate for elimination of restrictive regulations on local school districts and board of education members.
  • Promote awareness of the need for accurate data and information in the district monitoring process.
Advocacy
  • Expand and strengthen the statewide grassroots network for both state and federal advocacy efforts.
  • Promote greater participation at NJSBA advocacy events and county school boards association functions.
  • Promote the establishment of county school boards association legislative committees.
Funding
  • Advocate for amendments to the school funding formula that advance NJSBA policy on school finance.
  • Advocate for full funding of the state’s school finance formula to meet the needs of all students in a manner that is consistent, equitable, reliable and sustainable.
  • Raise board members’ awareness of the impact of state budget shortfalls on the school funding formula.
  • Educate state and federal legislators and the public on the need for full funding of all state and federally mandated programs.
  • Support local board efforts to initiate grass roots citizen action to reduce overreliance on property taxes.
  • Engage in concerted efforts to reform the methodology for funding state aid for school construction.
  • Oppose the use of public funds for non-public schools.
  • Actively seek direct state funding for charter school operations so as not to diminish the resources available to the traditional public schools in the same district.
  • Oppose any reduction in school aid figures after the commissioner of education notifies school districts of their state aid entitlements immediately following the governor’s budget address.
  • Advocate for a proportional share of payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT), approved by municipal governing bodies, to be directed to local educational spending.
Local Governance
  • Advocate for the ability of local boards of education to secure the best possible school district leadership by eliminating unnecessary restrictions.
  • Promote recognition that attempted one-size-fits-all general solutions may create unintended adverse impacts for individual districts.
  • Advocate for maximum local control over the budgetary process.
  • Advocate for adjustments to the local levy cap to give school districts the flexibility to meet extraordinary funding issues.
  • Advocate for relief from state and federal restrictions over the use of school district funds.
  • Promote public awareness of the limitations placed on local school boards through overly restrictive federal and state oversight.
  • Advocate for local board input on the opening of charter schools.
  • Advocate retaining the board of education’s authority in making personnel decisions.
  • Promote public awareness of the importance of school boards and encourage greater participation and candidacy.
School District Staffing/Collective Bargaining 
  • Eliminate statutory protections of absolute seniority; advocate for changes to the last-in-first-out (LIFO) practice so that districts facing reductions in staff are provided flexibility in retaining the best teachers
  • Advocate for the permanent continuation of health care premium sharing by board of education employees and ensure they continue to pay a fair share of the costs of health benefits.
  • Advocate for policies and reforms that reduce the overall cost of providing board of education employees with health insurance coverage.
  • Preserve the managerial prerogative of boards of education to subcontract or privatize non-instructional staff and services when such action is in the financial and educational interests of the district.
  • Oppose any proposals that would extend tenure or tenure-like protections to non-certified staff.
  • Protect boards of education from the imposition of any excise taxes or surcharges that may be imposed on high-cost health plans by the federal government pursuant to the federal Affordable Care Act or any other law.
Special Education
  • Increase awareness of districts’ responsibilities to students with special needs under state and federal laws.
  • Advocate for direct state funding of costs related to extraordinary special education transportation.
  • Advocate for full federal funding of IDEA.
  • Advocate for reasonable limits on costs associated with placements at private schools for the handicapped.
Vocational Educational
  • Advocate for the implementation of the recommendations of NJSBA’s Task Force on Educational Opportunities for the Non-College-Bound Learner.
  • Advocate for the enhancement of opportunities through joint district/vocational school/community college collaborative programs.

Sharon Seyler is an NJSBA legislative advocate.

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