The General Assembly last Thursday convened for a voting session, and advanced several education-related measures. The following provides a summary of any bills approved by the Assembly that impact the New Jersey’s public schools.

Making Students in Wheelchairs Safer A-1257 requires school buses transporting students using wheelchairs to be equipped with a four-point securement system. In addition, students using wheelchairs are required to be secured using the four-point securement system at all times while the bus is in operation. Under current federal regulations, each school bus that is designed to carry a passenger who uses a wheelchair must have no less than four wheelchair securement anchorages. Therefore, to the extent that the bill’s requirements are consistent with current federal regulations, the legislation will not lead to an increase in school districts’ expenditures.

A previous version of A-1257 would have also required a school bus that provides transportation for passengers using wheelchairs to have an aide to assist such passengers. Citing cost concerns and the fact that a student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) will dictate whether a student truly needs the assistance of a school bus aide, the NJSBA helped secure an amendment to eliminate that provision, which would have constituted an unfunded mandate.

NJSBA supports A-1257 in its current form. Identical legislation, S-2628, was released by the Senate Education Committee in May and currently sits in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

Promoting “Smarter” Lunchrooms A-3444 also known as “The Smarter Lunchroom Act,” promotes healthy food choices in school cafeterias by encouraging school districts, public schools, and nonpublic schools to adopt the strategies of The Smarter Lunchroom Movement. The Smarter Lunchroom Movement was founded by researchers at the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs and offers simple, low- to no-cost evidence-based tools that improve child eating behaviors in school cafeterias. The bill requires the state education commissioner to make every effort to assist, guide, and support schools in planning, establishing, and implementing the strategies of The Smarter Lunchroom Movement.

NJSBA supports the bill. A-3444 now heads to the Senate Education Committee where its counterpart, S-2113, has yet to receive a hearing.

Child Abuse Hotline A-3655 requires a board of education to display information about the New Jersey Department of Children and Families’ State Central Registry, a toll-free hotline for reporting child abuse, in each school of the district. NJSBA supports the bill. As of Monday, no Senate counterpart had been introduced.

College Readiness Commission A-4088 establishes a “High School to College Readiness Commission.” Under the bill, the commission will consist of 18 members including: the Commissioner of Education, the Secretary of Higher Education, the executive director of the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, and 11 members from various associations representing the K-12 and higher education communities. The New Jersey School Boards Association will have a representative on the commission. The commission will study and develop recommendations on “issues related to enhancing student preparation for postsecondary education and raising the awareness of students and parents on the admission requirements and other issues associated with postsecondary education.”

NJSBA supports the bill, which moves to the Senate. Similar legislation, S-2567, was approved by the Senate Higher Education Committee last month. Differences between the two bills will have to be reconciled before the bill can be sent to the governor.

Nourishing Young Minds Initiative S-2819/A-4363 would establish a fund in the New Jersey Department of Agriculture to be known as the “Nourishing Young Minds Initiative Fund.” Money in the fund would be used by the Department of Agriculture, in consultation with the New Jersey Department of Education, to help pay for child food and nutrition programs, which would include:

  1. Funding outreach and program support by the Department of Agriculture, Department of Education, or community-based organizations;
  2. Providing small grants to fund one-time startup or expansion costs of “breakfast after the bell” programs; and
  3. Providing small grants to fund one-time start-up or expansion costs of summer nutrition programs.

Funding would be prioritized for districts or schools with the highest number of eligible students and lowest participation in the school breakfast program. NJSBA supports the legislation, which has now passed both houses of the Legislature and heads to the governor for his consideration.

Protecting High School Transcripts A-4860 prohibits a person from buying, selling, making or altering, giving, issuing, obtaining or attempting to obtain a transcript of high school course work with the intent to deceive. A person who violates this provision is subject to a civil penalty of $1,000 for each offense. NJSBA supports the measure, which now goes to the Senate.

Students on Naval Property A-4453 requires pupils who reside on the Naval Weapons Station Earle to enroll in the resident school district in accordance with an enrollment schedule determined by the executive county superintendent. The schedule would provide for the transition, over a period of four school years, of all pupils enrolled in the designated district to enrollment in the schools of the district in which the pupils reside, so that by July 1, 2020 all pupils are enrolled in the schools of the district in which they reside. The bill allows a pupil an option to continue in the school of the designated district he is attending on the bill’s effective date until graduation from that school.

A 1988 law authorized the executive county superintendent of schools in Monmouth County to designate a school district as the district of residence for the students who reside on federal property at the Naval Weapons Station Earle. The property on which Earle is located is within the geographic boundaries of two separate school districts. Pursuant to that law, the Tinton Falls School District has provided educational services to children who reside on Earle since the 1988-1989 school year.

The bill joins its counterpart, S-2881, in the Senate Education Committee.

Federal Impact Aid Funding AR-202, a non-binding resolution, urges the federal government to increase funding for the Impact Aid Program. Under that program, school districts receive additional federal funding to offset the property tax revenue loss that results from the presence of federally-owned property and to support the costs of educating federally-connected students, such as children whose parents are in the military. The program has been significantly underfunded, inhibiting affected school districts from providing the educational opportunities their students deserve. NJSBA supports the resolution.

Gov CVs Bill to Eliminate Non-Operating Districts

On Friday, Gov. Chris Christie took action on a handful of bills that were sent to his desk earlier this spring. One of them, A-4352/S-2843, would have established a new process to facilitate the elimination of school districts that became non-operating after the passage of a 2009 law that established procedures for the elimination of non-operating districts that existed prior to that law. This measure was conditionally vetoed by the governor and returned to the Legislature with recommended changes.

As approved by the Legislature, A-4352/S-2843 provides for the elimination of non-operating school districts that were established after the effective date of P.L.2009, c.78., under which the executive county superintendents of schools were required to develop a plan for eliminating the non-operating school districts in their counties. To date, 14 such school districts have been eliminated; however, additional districts have subsequently become non-operating school districts. The legislation also establishes procedures for eliminating a deficit that existed prior to the merger of a non-operating district with an operating district, and also authorizes the renting of a school building for 10 years.

This bill specifies that if, at the time of a required merger, a school district has a deficit in its general fund, then the Commissioner of Education will require that the district that incurred the deficit raise a supplemental general fund tax levy to eliminate the deficit. Any such supplemental tax levy would be in addition to any increase that is authorized under the statutory 2 percent property tax levy cap, and the commissioner will determine if the supplemental levy will only affect the current year or if it will be a permanent increase.

The bill also increases the term under which a Type II school district may rent buildings for school purposes without voter approval. Under current law, a district may, in the case of emergency, enter an agreement to rent a building for a term of five years. This bill increases the maximum term to 10 years.

Governor Christie conditionally vetoed the bill saying that he supports the bill’s intention to eliminate non-operating school districts, as well as the increased fiscal and administrative efficiencies that will be realized when a non-operating school district is merged with another district. According to the veto statement, the elimination of the date from the definition of a non-operating school district is critical as the current statute unnecessarily limits the application of this law to those districts that became non-operating prior to June 2009.

However, Christie balked at the provision that would have created a “loophole” to the two percent property tax levy cap. Christie wrote, “I have repeatedly vetoed attempts to create loopholes to the two percent tax levy cap. Any measure that creates an exception to the two percent cap undermines the cap, despite how well intentioned the exception may be.” The governor also pointed out that his 2018-2019 budget proposal provides relief for non-operating districts that merge with another district, without creating an exception to the 2 percent cap.

The bill heads now heads back to the Legislature for its consideration of the governor’s conditional veto.