Before going into summer recess, the Legislature sent Gov. Murphy the “Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act,” which could make $1 billion available to finance various types of capital projects at New Jersey’s public school districts and county colleges. The legislation, S-2293/A-3902, not only needs the governor’s sign off, but will also have to be approved by the voters at the November general election.
The legislation initially began as a $500 million proposal to support facility expansion at the state’s county vocational-technical schools and county colleges. During the legislative process, however, the bill was expanded to set aside additional money for school security enhancements as well as water infrastructure projects in school facilities. As approved by the Legislature, the bill authorizes the issuance of $1 billion in bonds, the proceeds of which would be used to provide grants to school districts and county colleges for the following purposes:
- $400 million for county vocational school district career and technical education (CTE) grants, to be used to construct and equip educational facilities to expand existing or offer new CTE programs;
- $50 million for county college career and technical education grants;
- $450 million for grants to pay the cost of school facility security projects at schools offering grades kindergarten through 12; and
- $100 million for school district water infrastructure improvement grants.
The commissioner of education, in consultation with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development would be tasked with developing the application procedures and eligibility criteria for the CTE grants. In applying for the grants, county vocational districts will have to demonstrate how a proposed project will “increase the capacity of the county vocational school district or county college to offer career and technical education programs; prepare students for high demand, technically skilled careers; and align with labor market demands or economic development goals.” The grants will support 75 percent of the costs of the projects, while the county school districts will need to provide 25 percent in matching funds.
The commissioner will also develop eligibility criteria and procedures for the review and approval of the school facility security grants and the water infrastructure improvement grants. Projects supported by these grants will be fully funded by the state and require no local match.
NJSBA supports the legislation in general, as it would provide resources for a vast array of critically important projects and initiatives. However, the Association expressed some concern during legislative deliberations over the fact that the career and technical education (CTE) grants would only be available to the state’s county vocational-technical schools, rather than to all public schools that need funding to expand their CTE offerings.
If signed by Gov. Murphy, the legislation will be submitted to the voters at the general election. It will require the approval of a simple majority to go into effect.
Two other pieces of legislation impacting public school districts were given legislative approval and sent to the governor at the Senate and General Assembly’s final voting sessions:
School Safety Specialist Law ChangesA-3765/S-2456 permits a school district superintendent to designate a school employee with expertise as a school safety specialist. Under the 2017 law establishing the “New Jersey School Safety Specialist Academy,” a school district superintendent must designate a “school administrator” as the school safety specialist for the school district. This means that the safety specialist must hold an administrator’s certificate. NJSBA supports the bill, as it provides school districts greater flexibility to appoint the most appropriate staffer to serve as the designated school safety specialist, regardless if he or she holds an administrator certificate.
“Sexting” InstructionA-2189/S-2092 requires school districts to include instruction on the social, emotional, and legal consequences of distributing and soliciting sexually explicit images through electronic means, a practice commonly referred to as “sexting.” The instruction must be provided once during the middle-school grades. NJSBA supports the legislation.
The General Assembly also approved the following bill that now goes to the Senate for further consideration:
Financial Literacy EducationA-1414 requires financial literacy instruction to pupils enrolled in grades six through eight. The instruction must meet the requirements established by the State Board of Education, reflect the age and comprehension of the students enrolled in the particular grade level and include content on budgeting, savings, credit, debt, insurance, investment and other issues associated with personal financial responsibility as determined by the State Board. NJSBA supports this bill.