Monday, Jan. 11 was the final day of the two-year session of the 216th Legislature. Both houses held lengthy voting sessions. The Senate also held a vote on Thursday, Jan. 7 and advanced several bills impacting New Jersey’s school districts.

Two Bills Signed, One Vetoed

Typically, a bill becomes law when signed by the governor, or after 45 days if the governor takes no action. If the bill’s house of origin is not in session on the 45th day, the governor has until the first session day thereafter to act. However, different rules apply to bills passed during the last 45 days of a two-year legislative session. A bill passed between the 45th and the 10th day before the expiration of the session becomes law unless the governor vetoes it before noon of the day prior to the expiration of the two-year Legislature – i.e., the second Monday in January of an even-numbered year. The Legislature convenes on that day to consider any such vetoes.

The following pieces of legislation passed the Legislature between the 45th and 10th day prior to the end of the 2014-2015 session, thus requiring the governor to take action on them. On Monday, the governor signed two into law:

S-1940/A-2893 (P.L.2015, c.177) exempts payments for electric, gas, telecommunications, water, and sewer utility services provided by companies under the jurisdiction of the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) from school district and local government certification requirements related to payments for goods and services with public money. An exemption from these requirements may provide savings for taxpayers that may be used to fund school districts and local government entities, and may save money for public utility ratepayers throughout the state. The NJSBA supported the measure. The provisions of this new law will become operable on the 60th day following the governor’s approval.

S-2453/A-3805 (P.L.2015, c.181) requires earlier mandatory polling hours for school elections, and also requires that discretionary additional polling hours be consistent with current primary and general elections. This law provides that the polls for school elections will close at 8 p.m., thus making that closing time consistent with the poll closing time for the general and primary elections.  (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 choose.) 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. This new law takes effect on Jan. 1, 2017.

The governor conditionally vetoed another bill impacting local boards of education and returned it to the Legislature with recommendations for changes:

A-4386/S-3042 would permit two or more candidates for a board of education who seek election at the annual school election to circulate a nominating petition jointly and to be bracketed together for the same term. 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.

As passed by the Legislature, A-4386/S-3042 would permit candidates to sign or circulate, or both sign and circulate, a joint petition of nomination for the same term. When 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.

A-4386/S-3042 also incorporated provisions of the governor’s conditional veto of S-387 by directing the secretary of state, in consultation with the education commissioner 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. The A-4386/S-3042 bill would have also permitted joint petitions and bracketing prior to the completion of such a study. On Jan. 11, the governor issued a conditional veto similar to the one he issued for S-387, stating his belief that “transforming school election ballots by grouping candidates’ names and campaign slogans compels us to first assess the risk that such a proposal would politicize our nonpartisan school elections.” Late Monday, both houses of the Legislature concurred with the recommendations of the conditional veto. The bill now awaits the governor’s signature.

Dozens of Education-Related Bills Sent to Governor’s Desk

The following bills were passed within the final 10 days of the legislative session and will either become law or expire without further action. A bill passed between the 10th and last day of the session will become law only upon the governor’s signature. The governor has until seven days after the expiration of the two-year session to sign such a bill. If the governor does not approve it, the bill is “pocket vetoed.” This is the only situation in which a bill can be vetoed without being returned to the Legislature for reconsideration.

A-1431/S-1501 would require the State Board of Education regulations regarding school nurse certification to include certain minimum eligibility requirements.

A-1455/S-2011 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 of or behind the bus.

S-1594/A-4044 requires that a public school district must provide a daily recess period of at least 20 minutes for students in grades kindergarten through 5.

A-2740/S-3244 eliminates the per-pupil administrative cost limit for school districts. Under current law, the proposed budget submitted by a school district to the education commissioner for approval may not include per-pupil administrative costs which exceed its per-pupil administrative cost limit. The district’s limit would be the lower of: 1) the district’s prior year per pupil administrative costs; or 2) the prior year per pupil administrative cost limits for the district’s region inflated by the cost of living or 2.5 percent, whichever is greater. The elimination of the per-pupil administrative cost limit will provide school districts with greater flexibility in addressing the allocation of school district resources.

A-2925/S-1033 allows modernization for the form of payment disbursements by authorizing local units (including school districts). They would be permitted to adopt policies allowing electronic funds transfer (EFT) technologies to be used for the payment of certain claims. This legislation would effectuate a long-standing NJSBA policy belief that boards of education should be able to take advantage of electronic procurement technology and practices that result in streamlined purchasing procedures and more efficient use of taxpayer funds.

A-1667/S-2155 permits a child whose parent or guardian is ordered into active military service to remain enrolled in the school district where the child’s parent or guardian resided prior to active military service.

A-4148/S-2731 provides an excused absence on Veterans Day for a pupil who participates in certain activities for veterans or active duty members of the United States Armed Forces or the New Jersey National Guard.

S-2426/A-311 requires public schools to weight courses in visual and performing arts equally with other courses worth the same number of credits in calculating grade-point average.

A-1103/S-451 establishes the Office of the Special Education Ombudsman in the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE).

A-1466 allows for a waiver of school bus requirements for mobility-assistance vehicle technicians who transport students with medical needs to and from school.

A-2583 requires the development of a fact sheet about bedbugs to be posted on the NJDOE’s website.

A-2597/S-2161 provides that beginning with the class of students who enter ninth grade in the 2016-2017 school year, Advanced Placement computer science courses may satisfy a part of either the mathematics or science credits required for high school graduation.

A-4359/S-2716 would require that a school district’s request for permission to use an unrecognized position title include a list of abolished positions and positions in which there have been layoffs and detailed job descriptions for them.

A-4415/S-3279 establishes the State Seal of Biliteracy to recognize high school graduates who have attained a high level of proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing in one or more world languages in addition to English.

A-4653/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.

A-4878/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.

A-4901/S-2923 requires school districts or charter schools to provide notification to parents or guardians of enrolled students on the upcoming administration of state assessments or commercially-developed standardized assessments.

A-4924/S-1687 permits students made homeless by an act of terrorism or natural disaster to attend tuition-free the school district in which they resided prior to being homeless for two school years after the event.

A-4925/S-2922 requires the NJDOE on its website to link to the N.J. Department of Treasury’s website where a list is maintained of all third-party individuals and vendors employed or retained for work associated with state assessments.

A-4926/S-489 authorizes institutions of higher education to grant college credit to high school students who complete the Jersey Boys State or Jersey Girls State program.

A-4928/S-3247 eliminates the $500,000 cap on the cost of SDA (former Abbott) district school facilities projects that may be constructed by an SDA district and included in capital outlay budget. However, doing so would need to be approved by the NJDOE.

S-2032: Requires the NJDOE to review the Core Curriculum Content Standards to ensure that they incorporate modern computer science standards where appropriate.

A-1849/S-1766 prohibits the State Board of Education from limiting the number of professional education credits earned at a regionally accredited two-year college that may be applied towards meeting the requirements for teacher certification, provided that the credits are accepted by a state-approved college professional education preparation program.

Constitutional Amendment on Pension Funding One Step Closer to Ballot

SCR-184/ACR-3 proposes a constitutional amendment to require the state to make its payment to the pension systems for public employees each year and to establish in the New Jersey Constitution the rights of public employees vested in these pension systems to receive earned pension benefits. While approved by both the Senate and General Assembly, these constitutional amendments did not obtain the requisite approval of three-fifths of the membership of each house of the Legislature in order to place it before the voters at the next general election. However, if the amendment receives a simple majority approval by both houses in the new legislative session, it will go on the ballot in November for voter consideration.

Senate Advances NJSBA-Endorsed School Security Measure

On Monday, Jan. 11, the full Senate unanimously approved school security legislation, S-2983, that would establish a new category of “Class Three” special law enforcement officers (SLEOs). Class Three SLEOs would be specifically authorized to provide security in the state’s public and nonpublic schools. Under the bill, Class Three SLEOs would be authorized to provide security at a school while they are on school premises during hours when the school is normally in session or when it is occupied by students or their teachers. They would be required to:

  • Be retired police officers less than 65 years old;
  • Have served as duly qualified, fully-trained, full-time municipal police officers;
  • Be separated from that prior service in good standing within three years of appointment;
  • Be physically capable of performing the functions of the position; and
  • Possess a NJ Police Training Commission Basic Police Officer Certification or NJ State Police Academy Certification.

Unlike Class One and Class Two SLEOs, Class Three officers would not be subject to the statutory 20 hour work week limit. In addition, Class Three SLEOs would not be eligible for any health care or retirement benefits.

The NJSBA publicly supports this innovative legislation, which would provide school districts with an additional option to enhance the safety of our students and security of our schools. In fact, the NJSBA’s School Security Task Force, which published its final report in October 2014, recommended that the state establish a new category of SLEOs to provide security in schools. And in July 2015, the School Security Task Force that was established through legislation in 2013 included a similar recommendation in its July 2015 final report.

While the S-2983 easily passed the full Senate, the bill died when the 2014-2015 legislative session came to a close Monday. However, it is likely that the bill will gain momentum again in the new session.

The Senate also passed the following measures which did not receive consideration by the full Assembly prior to the conclusion of the two-year session:

S-445 requires the New Jersey Commissioner of Education to develop and establish an initiative to support and encourage the use of a Response to Intervention (RTI) framework by school districts to promote the achievement of all students.

S-1276 establishes a pilot program in the NJDOE to recruit disadvantaged or minority men to teach in certain failing schools under the alternate route program.

S-2266 establishes certain requirements for the use of restraint and seclusion on students with disabilities in school districts and approved private schools for students with disabilities, and requires the NJDOE to collect and report data regarding restraint and inclusion.

S-2633 authorizes a board of education that includes grades nine through 12 to establish a community service credit program.

Assembly Voting Session:

The General Assembly approved several other bills affecting school districts, each of which expired at the close of the legislative session without receiving a full vote in the Senate:

A-3921 establishes a pilot program in the NJDOE to award pupil transportation contracts that exceed the bid threshold through a request for proposals.

A-4207 requires public school students with concussions to be evaluated by licensed health care professionals before returning to school and requires school districts to provide restrictions or limitations to student, as needed.

A-4779 requires the education commissioner to declare an educational state of emergency for certain districts with low proficiency rates in language arts and literacy and provides for corrective measures.