In mid-January of every odd numbered year, a new two-year legislative session begins in New Jersey. Coinciding with every session, the New Jersey School Boards Association adopts a legislative advocacy agenda and action plan that serves as a guide for the Association’s public policy goals at the state and federal levels. As the legislative session moves forward, the Association’s Governmental Relations Department will work toward accomplishing these goals, which would provide benefits to local boards of education and students across the state.

Legislative Committee The NJSBA Legislative Committee plays a critical role in the development of the Association’s advocacy agenda. Chaired by the vice president for legislation/resolutions, currently Chanta L. Jackson, this committee consists of the officers of the Association and several dozen individual board members. The committee is appointed by the NJSBA president with the advice and consent of the board of directors, as follows: one member from each of the 40 legislative districts. There is also one alternate for each member of the 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 meets four times a year, at which members are briefed on the latest legislative action at the state and federal levels. Members discuss legislative and other policy proposals that affect boards of education. Often the meetings include guest speakers, including prominent legislators. Individual Legislative Committee members from each district are also encouraged to visit with local legislators to discuss areas of concern.

Process Per Association bylaws, the NJSBA Legislative Committee is charged with developing a legislative agenda and advocacy action plan for each legislative session. As the end of any legislative session approaches, committee members deliberate over the previous advocacy agenda and discuss additions, modifications and deletions they believe are timely and appropriate. 

At its October 2023 meeting, committee members broke into small groups to discuss potential advocacy items and priorities for the next agenda and offered feedback to NJSBA leadership and staff. Following these deliberations, NJSBA staff compiled a draft plan and presented it to the committee at its next meeting, the final one before the previous legislative sessions ended, and held a vote for approval. Following its approval, the agenda was presented to the NJSBA Executive Committee.

The Executive Committee consists of the officers (president, three vice presidents, immediate past president) of the Association, and the executive director serves as an ex officio member without voting privileges. The NJSBA Executive Committee reviews the legislative agenda and advocacy action plan recommended by the Legislative Committee. After making any modifications, it then recommends the plan for approval by the board of directors. Under NJSBA bylaws, the board of directors has the final say over the adoption of the biannual legislative agenda and advocacy action plan. At its January 2024 meeting, the board gave the plan its seal of approval.

The Main Issues As is typically the case, school funding and finance issues received a great deal of attention in the advocacy agenda. 

As districts continue to face increased costs and growing student needs, the agenda stresses the importance of ensuring they are able to call upon sufficient financial resources. This can come in the form of increased state aid, flexibility around the 2% property tax levy cap and a greater commitment from the federal government to fund items like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Advancing the achievement of all students, NJSBA’s primary mission, is another area of focus, particularly as we continue to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and address student learning gaps it may have exacerbated. The agenda seeks to enhance student performance and promote better student mental health and well-being, which are significant factors affecting academic achievement. The plan also prioritizes the need to advance educator recruitment and retention strategies that will help mitigate the growing staffing shortage, which has reached crisis levels. 

In total, the 2024-2025 NJSBA Legislative Advocacy Agenda and Action Plan consists of approximately 20 items split into six policy subject areas. The full agenda follows below:

Student Achievement

  • Advocate for policies that will close student achievement gaps and accelerate learning through intensive support, such as high impact tutoring and professional development for educators.
  • Promote multiple pathways for postsecondary success for all students in both life and career, including the expansion of vocational programs in comprehensive schools.

School Funding and 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.
  • Mitigate the adverse impact on school districts experiencing reductions in state aid to ensure all students continue to receive a thorough and efficient education.
  • Push for a comprehensive review and study of the school funding formula that facilitates public input and will result in findings and recommendations for improvement to the state’s system of financing public education.
  • Promote property tax levy cap flexibility to enable school districts to reach their local fair share, as determined by the funding formula, particularly for districts experiencing reductions in state aid.
  • Increase state financial support for costs that are largely outside the control of boards of education, such as special education, pupil transportation and health care.

Special Education

  • Increase Extraordinary Special Education Aid, to fulfill the state’s commitment to reimburse 100% of eligible costs.
  • Increase federal support for special education by fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Staffing and Labor Relations

  • Combat the public-school staffing shortage crisis without sacrificing quality, including, but not limited to:
    • Enhancing the pipeline of qualified educators and highlighting the many positive aspects of serving as a teacher or support professional.
    • Eliminate the state residency requirement (i.e., “New Jersey First Act”) for public school employees.
    • Strengthen teacher certification reciprocity between New Jersey and other states.
  • Promote policies that will increase the diversity of the teaching workforce.
  • Alleviate the bus driver shortage through licensing flexibility without diminishing the safety of pupils.
  • Oppose and mobilize against efforts to intrude into collective bargaining and local governance, including decisions regarding personnel and employee benefits.

Student Health and Well-Being

  • Advocate for universal free school meals fully funded by the state and/or federal government.
  • Counter the effects of social media and internet usage on student mental and behavioral health.
  • Expand district capacity to develop and implement high-quality mental health supports, including supporting efforts that will expand the pipeline of qualified mental health professionals to provide school-based services.
  • Preserve and expand high-quality school-based youth services programs.
  • Promote social-emotional learning programs and improvements to the overall school climate.

Facilities and Construction

  • Advocate for state funding and reforms that will assist districts in modernizing aging school infrastructure.

Additionally, the agenda includes a statement stressing that, in all of our endeavors, it is explicit that we advocate for funding for all mandates.

The NJSBA Governmental Relations Department provides regular updates on the progress of any legislation that impacts public schools in the weekly online editions of School Board Notes, as well as providing regular informational briefings at county school boards association meetings. 

Jonathan Pushman is NJSBA’s director of governmental relations.