On Nov. 9 Gov. Chris Christie took action on dozens of bills that received final legislative approval prior to the Legislature’s summer recess. A handful of these bills impact local school districts and students, including two related to the PARCC assessments.

Bills Signed into Law

A-4485/S-2881 (P.L.2015, c.157) prohibits the education commissioner from withholding state school aid from a school district based on the participation rate of its students on the state assessments. This bill addresses the concern that school districts could face financial sanctions if too many students do not participate in the PARCC test. This new law would essentially prevent districts from being penalized for matters beyond their control. NJSBA supported this measure on the grounds that no local school board should be penalized because students unilaterally decided not to take the PARCC test. The new law took effect immediately upon the governor’s approval.

A-3079/S-2766 (P.L.2015, c.134) provides that a school district may not administer a commercially-developed standardized assessment to students enrolled in kindergarten through the second grade. Under this law, a commercially-developed standardized assessment will not include diagnostic and formative assessments used by teaching staff members to identify particular student learning needs or the need for special services, or to modify instructional strategies for an individual student’s learning. The measure also provides that its provisions would not preclude a classroom teacher or a board of education from developing, administering, and scoring an assessment for students in those grades. This new law becomes applicable at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year.

A-1029/S-274 (P.L.2015, c.123) requires that the education commissioner develop a training program for school bus drivers and school bus aides on interacting with students with special needs. The training program would include appropriate behavior management, effective communication, the use and operation of adaptive equipment, and understanding behavior that may be related to specific disabilities. Once the training program is made available, boards of education and school bus contractors that provide student transportation services under contract with boards of education would be required to administer the training program to all school bus drivers and school bus aides that they employ.

This measure also requires that the education commissioner develop a student information card that contains information that should be readily available to school bus drivers and school bus aides for the purpose of promoting proper interaction with a student with special needs. The student information card would be completed by the parent or guardian of a student with an individualized education plan (IEP) when the IEP is developed or amended. Upon receiving consent from a student’s parent or guardian, the school district would provide the completed student information card to the school bus driver and school bus aide assigned to the student’s bus route.

The legislation gives the department one year to develop the new training program and make it available to districts and school bus contractors. Once the new program is available, new employees must complete the training before they can drive a school bus or serve as school bus aide. Current drivers and aides must complete the program within 180 days of it being made available.

A-3807/S-2619 (P.L.2015, c.140) permits an educational research and services corporation to act as the lead agency or lead contracting unit, without obtaining a waiver from the state, for the procurement of certain goods and services used by entities comprising that corporation, and by municipalities, fire districts, counties, local authorities subject to the “Local Authorities Fiscal Control Law,” P.L.1983, c.313 (C.40A:5A-1 et seq.), school districts, county colleges, state colleges, public research universities, and nonprofit independent institutions of higher education that receive direct state aid. The new law took effect immediately.

A-3983/S-2574 (P.L.2015, c.143) authorizes the provision of additional state aid to the Atlantic City school district. The state education commissioner would perform a needs assessment to determine if the school district should receive commercial valuation stabilization aid. Based on that review, the commissioner would determine the total amount of aid that the district would receive. The law appropriates the necessary sums to provide the additional aid, subject to the approval of the director of the state Division of Budget and Accounting. Under the law, the school district would be required to reduce its general fund tax levy by an amount equal to the commercial valuation stabilization aid received.

A-4073/S-2687 (P.L.2015, c.146) designated as “Korman and Park’s Law,” would require the installation of carbon monoxide detection devices in all structures not currently required to have such devices. Currently, carbon monoxide detectors are required in hotels, multiple dwellings, rooming and boarding homes, and in single and two-family homes upon initial occupancy or change of occupancy. This law would expand this requirement to all other structures, but would not require the installation of carbon monoxide detection devices if it is determined that there is no potential carbon monoxide hazard in the structure. Thus, these devices would not be required in a building which does not have a source of carbon monoxide fumes. This law takes effect immediately.

A-4587/S-3049 (P.L.2015, c.158) requires facilities providing services to persons with developmental disabilities and schools to adopt policies permitting the administration of medical marijuana to qualifying patients. Under the law, boards of education, chief school administrators of nonpublic schools, and chief administrators of facilities providing services to persons with developmental disabilities must adopt a policy authorizing parents, guardians, and primary caregivers to administer medical marijuana to qualifying patients under certain circumstances.

In the case of a public or nonpublic school, the law authorizes parents, guardians, and primary caregivers to administer medical marijuana to a student in a nonsmokable form while the student is on school grounds, aboard a school bus, or attending a school-sponsored event, provided the administration is consistent with a school policy that: (1) requires the student to be authorized to engage in the medical use of marijuana pursuant to the “Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act” and the parent, guardian, or primary caregiver to be authorized to assist the student with the medical use of medical marijuana; (2) establishes protocols for verifying the registration status and ongoing authorization concerning the medical use of marijuana for the student and the parent, guardian, or primary caregiver; (3) expressly authorizes parents, guardians, and primary caregivers to administer medical marijuana to the student while the student is on school grounds, aboard a school bus, or attending a school-sponsored event; (4) identifies locations on school grounds where medical marijuana may be administered; and (5) prohibits the administration of medical marijuana by smoking or other form of inhalation. This law took effect immediately upon the governor’s signature.

Bills Receiving a Conditional Veto

The following measures were conditionally vetoed by the governor. The Legislature can either accept his recommended amendments or attempt to override his veto.

A-1468/S-2513 would have established, within the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE), a Task Force on Engineering Curriculum and Instruction. Under the bill as passed by the Legislature, the task force is charged with making recommendations to the State Board of Education on how to incorporate engineering curriculum into the K-12 science curriculum.

Using his conditional veto authority, the governor returned the bill to the Legislature with recommended changes. The governor does not believe it is necessary or appropriate to establish a special task force for the purpose of developing curricula, which is a local responsibility. Instead, he recommended that the bill be amended to provide that NJDOE examine curriculum standards regarding engineering education. The department would undertake this review consistent with the impending consideration of the state’s academic standards pursuant to the governor’s direction in May 2015.

A-3223/S-2056 requires the Division of Local Government Services to include certain property tax information on the division’s webpage. The governor’s conditional veto statement can be found here.

A-947/S-2216 requires release of a bid list prior to the bid date under “Local Public Contracts Law.” Due to concerns about bid rigging and collusion, the governor recommends that disclosure of the identities of bid recipients be permissive rather than mandatory.

Special Ed Ombudsman Bill Advances

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee met on Monday and released S-451, which establishes the Office of the Special Education Ombudsman in the Department of Education.

The office will serve as a resource to provide information and support to parents, students, and educators regarding special education rights and services. Under the bill, the commissioner will appoint a special education ombudsman who is qualified by training and experience to perform the duties of the office. The ombudsman will also be skilled in communication, conflict resolution, and professionalism. The bill directs the special education ombudsman to make an annual report to the State Board of Education and the commissioner of education that includes a summary of the services the ombudsman provided during the year and recommendations concerning the state’s implementation of special education procedures and services. The bill is now primed for a vote before the full Senate.

The bill’s lower house counterpart, A-1103, was released by the Assembly Education Committee in June but has yet to be voted on by the full General Assembly. NJSBA supports the measure.