On Dec. 2, Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a measure designed to help school districts verify a student’s residency for enrollment purposes. Effective immediately, S-1946/A-3441 (P.L.2015, c.161) permits a school district to request and receive from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission the name and address of a student’s parent or guardian in order to verify a student’s eligibility for enrollment in the school district. The NJSBA supported the legislation throughout the legislative process.

Assembly and Senate Hold Voting Sessions Over the past week, both the General Assembly and Senate held voting sessions and advanced several pieces of legislation impacting New Jersey’s public school districts. Below is a summary of those measures and their current status.

Bills Now On Governor’s Desk The full General Assembly approved S-2453/A-3805, which requires earlier mandatory polling hours for school elections, and also requires that discretionary additional polling hours be consistent with current primary and general elections. The bill passed the Senate this past March and now goes to the governor for his consideration.

This bill provides that the polls for school elections will close at 8 p.m. Under the current law, if a school election is not held at the same time as the general election (i.e., April school elections), the polls are required to open at 5 p.m. and stay open until 9 p.m. The polls may also be open additional time between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. as the board may designate. The bill changes the closing time for polls for school elections to 8 p.m., thus making that closing time consistent with the closing time for polls for the general and primary elections. The bill also: 1) changes the mandatory opening hour for school elections from 5 p.m. to 4 p.m.; and 2) changes the additional discretionary opening hour of polling places from 7 a.m. to 6 a.m., so that these hours are consistent with the current time that polls are open for primary and general elections.

As introduced, the legislation would have reduced from four to three the minimum number of hours that a polling location must remain open (i.e., from 5 to 8 p.m.). NJSBA actively opposed that version of the bill because it believes that, during April school board elections, the polls should remain open, at a minimum, between the hours of 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., and during any additional time that the school board may designate between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.  Committee amendments returned the minimum number of hours that a polling location must remain open to at least four by requiring such locations to be open to the voters from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. These amendments mitigated the NJSBA’s opposition since the bill would now require polls to be opened for the same minimum number of hours as is the case under current law.

A-4386 / S-3042 permits two or more candidates for a board of education who seek election at the annual school election held in either April or November of each year to circulate a nominating petition jointly and to be bracketed together for the same term. On Monday, the measure passed the full Senate and was sent to the governor’s desk. The governor conditionally vetoed a similar bill (S-387) in August 2014, citing concerns that it “may risk the integrity of our school elections by politicizing them.” Instead, the governor recommended that the New Jersey Secretary of State undertake a review of the impact of allowing the bracketing of candidates together and designations of candidates’ principles on school election petitions and ballots, and to report the findings and recommendations to him.

Under the bill, two or more candidates could sign or circulate, or both sign and circulate, a joint petition of nomination for the same term. When two or more such candidates also wish to be bracketed together on a ballot, they must first notify the secretary of the board of education in writing prior to the drawing for position on the ballot. The candidates would determine among themselves the order that their names would appear within the bracket prior to notifying the secretary. After the drawing, the candidates who are bracketed together would share a position on the ballot as a group and have their names printed together in the appropriate location on the ballot. The ballots would indicate whether the candidates are to be elected to fill an expired or an unexpired term.

The bill also incorporates the governor’s conditional veto recommendation and directs the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Commissioner of Education and the clerk of each county, to conduct a study of the impact of allowing the bracketing of candidates together. The study would be based on data collected from school districts holding annual elections in either April or at the general election in November for three years following the enactment of the act.

Dec. 3 General Assembly Voting Session:   A-447 establishes a 21-member task force to study and evaluate issues associated with the establishment and implementation of full-day kindergarten. The task force, which will include a representative from NJSBA, would consider several issues, including existing research concerning full-day kindergarten; implementation issues associated with full-day kindergarten such as staffing needs, facility space, and class size; funding needed; curriculum comparisons between full-day kindergarten and half-day kindergarten; opinions and recommendations of parents and elementary school teachers; and the feasibility of offering full-day kindergarten in school districts statewide. The NJSBA supports the legislation, which passed by a margin of 62-10 with six abstentions. It has not moved in the Senate to date.

The Legislature passed similar legislation in the 2012-13 session, but it was vetoed by the governor. In his veto message, the governor noted more than three-fourths of New Jersey school districts were offering full-day kindergarten, with the trend being more districts adding such service each year. Further, he noted the decision to offer full-day kindergarten should rest locally.

A-1455, designated “Abigail’s Law,” requires that all newly-manufactured school buses be equipped with sensors to alert a bus driver when a child walks in front or back of the bus. The measure passed the Assembly unanimously. If approved by the Senate and the governor, the bill would go into effect 180 days after enactment, but it would only apply prospectively. Therefore, buses already in operation would not need to be retrofitted with new sensors.  NJSBA has a long-standing policy endorsing the installation of bumper sensors on school buses, and therefore supports the measure. While acknowledging that the prospective nature of the bill should mitigate the adverse financial impact on school districts, the NJSBA did urge the Legislature to provide a funding source to offset the cost of installing the sensors. The bill’s counterpart in the Senate, S-2011, was released from the Senate Education Committee this past June and awaits further consideration by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

A-1468 requires the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) to review the Core Curriculum Content Standards to ensure they incorporate standards regarding engineering where appropriate.  As first passed by the Legislature in June, the bill would have established a Task Force on Engineering Curriculum and Instruction that would have been 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. On Dec. 3, the Assembly concurred with the governor’s recommendations. The Senate must now do the same before the measure returns to the governor’s desk.

A-4567, which also passed on Dec. 3, prohibits a school district under state governance from leasing a building as a lessee, if the total costs of the lease exceed the purchase price of the building. The bill’s Senate counterpart has yet to be scheduled for committee consideration.

Mandatory Recess Bill Receives More Changes Legislation (S-1594/A-4044) that would require school districts to provide a daily recess period for students in grades kindergarten through five was scheduled for a floor vote in the Assembly last Thursday. However, it was pulled from the board list so that further amendments could be made to it. Floor amendments provide that a student may be denied recess as a consequence of a violation of the district’s code of student conduct. In its previous form, the bill provided that a student may only be denied recess as a consequence of a harassment, intimidation, or bullying investigation. The Senate already passed an earlier version of S-1594. If the measure passes the full Assembly, it must then return to the Senate to concur with the Assembly’s modifications. The NJSBA is generally supportive of the measure.

Dec. 7 Senate Voting Session   S-451, which passed by a 34-0 vote, establishes the Office of the Special Education Ombudsman in the NJDOE. The office will serve as a resource to provide information and support to parents, students, and educators regarding special education rights and services. The Special Education Ombudsman, to be appointed by the commissioner, will submit an annual report to the State Board of Education and the commissioner that includes a summary of the services the ombudsman provided during the year and recommendations concerning the implementation of special education procedures and services. 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.

S-2032 directs the state education department to conduct a review of the current Core Curriculum Content Standards to ensure that those standards include appropriate and up-to-date requirements concerning computer science. This review will take place alongside the department’s ongoing consideration of the state’s academic standards. The Standards Review Committee is slated to submit its recommendations to the State Board of Education in early 2016. The Senate voted to accept the changes the governor recommended for S-2032 when he conditionally vetoed the legislation earlier this year.

As originally sent to the governor, the bill required the State Board of Education to develop rigorous curriculum guidelines in computer science at the middle and high school levels that will be incorporated into the existing Technology and Science Core Curriculum Content Standards, where appropriate. In his conditional veto, the governor stated that the bill unnecessarily requires the adoption of new curriculum guidelines before considering whether there is actually a need for the guidelines to be updated. The NJSBA supports the measure. S-2032 now goes to the Assembly, which must also accept the governor’s recommendations before the bill can return to his desk.

S-3067 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 has not taken 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. The bill, which passed the Senate by a 36-0 vote, now goes to the Assembly where its lower house companion bill, A-4653, has yet to be scheduled for a committee hearing.

S-3221 prohibits school districts from joining associations which oversee statewide interscholastic sports unless the association limits student-athletes who repeat a middle school grade to only six consecutive semesters of interscholastic eligibility after entering ninth grade. The bill is designed to help curtail the practice whereby student-athletes seek to gain athletic advantage at the high school level by repeating sixth, seventh, or eighth grade, despite having met the academic requirements for those grades. S-3221 passed on Dec. 7; the bill’s counterpart, A-4832, has been referred to the Assembly Education Committee.

S-3240 authorizes a school district to establish alternative education programs, including recovery high school alternative education programs, upon the approval of the board of education. The NJSBA supports the measure, which maintains local discretion regarding the establishment of alternative education programs. The measure passed unanimously.