The Senate and General Assembly held voting sessions on Thursday, June 21 and Monday, June 25.

The Legislature approved S-2/A-2, the school funding reform legislation that phases out adjustment aid over seven years, as well as A-4200/S-2019, the Fiscal Year 2019 Appropriations Act. That budget bill, passed on June 21, includes an additional $345 million for school aid, an increase of $61 million over the governor’s original proposal.

As School Board Notes went to press, there was no resolution to the dispute between the governor and Legislature about how to address revenues to support the state budget for fiscal year 2019, which begins on July 1. NJSBA will keep members updated on developments as they occur.

Both the state Senate and the Assembly also advanced a myriad of measures that will impact New Jersey’s public school districts and students. The following bills are currently sitting on the governor’s desk:

Mandatory Recess S-847/A-4076 requires school districts to provide a daily recess period of at least 20 minutes for students in grades kindergarten through 5. The bill also permits denial of recess for a violation of code of student conduct, but the student must be provided restorative justice activities. “Restorative Justice Activities” are defined as activities that are designed to improve the socioemotional and behavioral responses of students through the use of more appropriate, and less punitive, interventions thereby establishing a more supportive and inclusive school culture.  

School Security Panic Alarms A-764/S-365 entitled “Alyssa’s Law, requires that all public elementary and secondary schools be equipped with a panic alarm for use in a school security emergency such as a non-fire evacuation, lockdown, or active shooter situation. The panic alarm, which is to be inaudible within the school building, must be directly linked to law enforcement authorities and immediately transmit a signal or message to the authorities upon activation. The panic alarm must adhere to nationally recognized industry standards. In addition, the panic alarm must be installed solely by a person licensed to engage in the alarm business.  However, a school district may equip its elementary and secondary school buildings with an emergency mechanism that is an alternative to a panic alarm if the mechanism is approved by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE). The bill directs the state to reimburse school districts for the full cost of the panic alarms or alternative mechanism, including school districts that installed a panic alarm or alternative system prior to the bill’s effective date. NJSBA has supported the legislation due to the inclusion of a funding source that will offset school district costs.

The legislation is named in honor of Alyssa Alhadeff, a 14-year-old student and former resident of Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, who was killed on Feb. 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Bag Fees to Fund Lead Abatement A-3267/S-2600 would establish a five-cent fee on the use of single-use carryout bags provided by drug stores, supermarkets, and certain other retail establishments to customers. Most of the revenue derived from the fee would be dedicated to the newly created “Healthy Schools and Community Lead Abatement Fund.” Monies in the fund would be used exclusively for lead abatement in schools and communities.

Computer Science Endorsement  A-2193/S-1816 directs the State Board of Education to authorize a computer science education endorsement to the instructional certificate. The endorsement would authorize the holder to teach computer science in all public schools, and would be required to teach computer science in grades 9-12 once the State Board determines that there are a sufficient number of teachers holding the endorsement to make such a requirement feasible. The bill also includes a “grandfather” provision that would become operable if the State Board makes the computer science endorsement a requirement to teach the subject. That provision will permit an active teacher who can document proficient prior experience teaching computer science to be granted the endorsement.

3-Point Seat Belts on School Buses A-4110/S-233 requires that all school buses be equipped with three-point lap and shoulder seat belts. Under current law, school buses are only required to be equipped with lap belts. If enacted into law, the legislation would go into effect after 180 days and only apply to newly manufactured school buses; it would not require the retrofitting of school buses already in operation. While supportive of the bill’s intent to enhance rider safety, the NJSBA expressed concern during committee deliberations that the bill will increase pupil transportation costs at time when school districts’ resources are already spread thin. The Association appreciates the prospective nature of the legislation, which will allow for the gradual phase-in of the new equipment requirement.

Public-Private PartnershipsS-865/A-1299 permits school districts and other local and state government entities to enter into public-private partnership agreements with private entities for undertaking certain building and highway infrastructure projects. NJSBA supports the bill as it would permit, but not require, the use of a public-private partnership for school facility projects.

Opioid Overdose Prevention A-542/S-1830 would require boards of education to develop a policy for the emergency administration of opioid antidotes to students and staff members. The policy would require high schools, and would permit any other school, to maintain a supply of opioid antidotes and permit emergency administration of an opioid antidote by a school nurse or trained employee. The opioid antidotes must be accessible during regular school hours and during school-sponsored functions that take place on school grounds. A board of education may, at its discretion, make opioid antidotes accessible during school-sponsored functions that take place off school grounds. The bill’s requirements would also apply to charter and nonpublic schools. The bill directs the NJDOE to establish guidelines for school districts in developing their policies for the administration of opioid antidotes. The guidelines will require that each school nurse, and each employee designated by the board of education, receive training on standardized protocols for the administration of an opioid antidote to a student or staff member who experiences an opioid overdose.  NJSBA supports the bill.

Jersey City Payroll Tax A-4163/S-2581 would allow large municipalities to impose and collect an employer payroll tax.  Current law allows a municipality to impose and collect an employer payroll tax if it had collected the tax or adopted the tax during the two-year period prior to July 1, 1995.  Newark was the only municipality to have done so, and is the only municipality currently authorized to impose and collect an employer payroll tax.  This bill would allow all other municipalities with a population of at least 200,000, presently only Jersey City, to impose and collect an employer payroll tax of up to 1 percent. The payroll tax is intended to offset the possible cuts in aid that Jersey City would face pursuant to S-2, which revises the school funding formula, which was approved by the Legislature last week and is awaiting action by Gov. Murphy.

Urban Hope Act Amendments  A-4181/S-2722 would require the superintendent of a renaissance school district to establish a common enrollment system that would require students to apply to public schools located in the district through a single application. All public schools located in the district, including schools operated by the district, charter schools, and renaissance school projects would be required to participate. The bill also expands the definition of urban campus area and clarify that employees of renaissance school projects are in state-administered retirement systems.

The following NJSBA-tracked measures were passed by the full Senate in the past week and move to the General Assembly:

Combatting Child Abuse & Sexual Assault The following legislative proposals, all of which are supported by the NJSBA, are aimed at preventing child abuse and sexual assault in schools:

S-408 requires school districts to establish policies designed to increase staff, student, and parent awareness of child sexual abuse.  The policy will address issues including knowledge of warning signs that a child may be a sexual abuse victim, prevention techniques, actions that a child victim should take to obtain assistance, and available counseling options for students affected by sexual abuse. The policy must include a requirement that all school employees receiving training on these issues.

S-1129 requires current public school employees, employees of contracted service providers, school bus drivers, and candidates for those positions to undergo a child abuse record information (CARI) check. If the CARI check reveals that an allegation of child abuse or neglect has been substantiated against the employee or candidate, he or she will be permanently disqualified from employment or service with a school district.

S-2489 requires a board of education to prominently display information about the N.J. Department of Children and Families’ State Central Registry, a toll-free hotline for reporting child abuse, in each school of the district.

S-2707 establishes a task force within the NJDOE to make recommendations for reducing child sexual abuse in this state, including recommendations for school policies and training that address the sexual abuse of children.

S-2709 adds a provision to the New Jersey criminal code concerning sexual assault to provide that certain school employees or volunteers who commit an act of sexual penetration or sexual contact with students who are age 16 or older are guilty of sexual assault or criminal sexual contact.

S-2711 requires that all candidates for teaching certification receive training on the recognition of, and the requirement to report, child and sexual abuse.

S-2712 requires arbitrators who hear tenure charge matters pursuant to the TEACHNJ Act to receive training on conduct unbecoming a school employee.  The training would be for the purpose of assisting arbitrators in determining matters in which conduct unbecoming is the basis of the tenure charges made against an employee.  The training program would be developed in consultation with various stakeholders, including the NJSBA.

S-2713 requires the NJDOE to collect information on child abuse and sexual misconduct committed by teachers and to publish reports related to such behavior. Specifically, the bill directs the commissioner of education to annually collect data from each school district on the number of school employees who were disciplined, discharged, nonrenewed, asked to resign from employment, resigned from or otherwise separated from any employment while allegations of child abuse, sexual misconduct, or sexual or other harassment were pending or under investigation, or due to an adjudication or finding of child abuse, sexual misconduct, or sexual or other harassment. The bill requires NJDOE to annually submit a summary report to the Legislature on the data collected, as well as report on the implementation of the recently enacted law (P.L.2018, c.5) that requires school districts to ascertain prospective employees’ past allegations of child abuse or sexual misconduct.

S-2714 provides that if a board of education determines that a teaching staff member has failed to report an allegation of child abuse in accordance with state law or regulations, the board of education must submit a report to the State Board of Examiners that outlines its finding. The State Board of Examiners will review the certification of the teaching staff member to determine if the failure to report warrants the revocation or suspension of his or her certificate.

S-2715 requires the attorney general, in consultation with the commissioner of education, to develop a protocol establishing policies regarding the retention of video footage from school surveillance systems. NJSBA supports the bill.

Health/Phys Ed Endorsement RequirementS-858 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. Under existing state regulations, an elementary teacher is not required to have a specific endorsement in order to teach these subjects. The bill includes a “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. The legislation also permits an individual who holds a school nurse endorsement to teach health in elementary schools.

“Sexting” Education A-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 bill now returns to the Assembly, which passed a previous version of the measure in February, to concur with amendments made in the Senate before going to the governor.

LGBT Instruction  S-1569 requires each board of education to provide instruction on the political, economic, and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in an appropriate place in the curriculum of middle school and high school students as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Social Studies.

Dual Language Immersion S-1630 requires the New Jersey Commissioner of Education to develop a program to award grants to school districts and charter schools to develop dual language immersion programs. Under the program, the commissioner will provide grants to school districts and charter schools to develop dual language immersion programs in Chinese, Spanish, French, or any other language approved by the commissioner. The bill establishes a “Dual Language Immersion Program Fund” to finance the grant program, which would be funded through state appropriations and any other gifts, grants, or donations made to the fund. NJSBA supports the measure.

Promoting School MealsS-2527 requires the N.J. Department of Agriculture to develop promotional material for the “School Meal Program” and provide every school district with the “School Meal Program” promotional material, such as pamphlets, presentation material, webinars, and sample letters schools may send to parents. NJSBA supports the bill.

The following measures were approved by the full General Assembly and now head to the Senate for further consideration.

Promoting School Bus Safety In addition to legislation requiring the installation of three-point lap and shoulder belts on all school buses, which passed both houses of the Legislature, the General Assembly approved a handful of additional measures intended to increase school bus safety:

A-1888 requires a board of education or a contracted service provider that provides pupil transportation services to ensure that a school bus has on board at least one school bus aide for every 15 students with special needs.  The bill requires this aide-to-student ratio to be maintained at all times when a school bus is transporting students with special needs or a combination of students with special needs and general education students. While supporting the need to keep special education students safe, NJSBA raised concerns about the mandated added costs to local districts.

A-4195 provides that altering, destroying, concealing, removing, or disabling any camera or other monitoring device including any videotape, film, or other medium used to record sound or images that is installed in a school bus is a crime of the fourth degree. The bill requires each school that uses cameras to record images to have the images randomly reviewed once per month. Such districts would also have to submit a plan to the commissioner of education for the monthly inspection of cameras and video footage from school buses.

A-4224 directs the commissioner of education to study the safety of school bus passengers involved in emergency situations. The study would be performed in consultation with State Police, the Division of Highway Traffic Safety, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, and the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. It will include an evaluation of the statutory and regulatory requirements relating to school bus safety and the current policies, plans, and procedures implemented by school districts. NJSBA supports the legislation.

A-2436 requires a school district transportation supervisor, as a condition of employment, to complete the School Transportation Supervisors Certification Program offered by Rutgers University or an alternate certification program designated by the commissioner. The legislation would go into effect at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year and apply to newly hired supervisors and those with less than 11 years of experience.

Electronic Procurement  A-3112 authorizes local units of government, including boards of education, to use electronic procurement technologies. The bill would authorize electronic procurement for the purchase of electric and gas services and for the sale of surplus real and personal property. The NJSBA believes that boards 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. Therefore, the Association, along with its local government partners at the N.J. State League of Municipalities and the N.J. Association of Counties, strongly supports this legislation.

Lead Testing Reporting A-4121 would require the NJDOE and the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) to establish online reporting systems for schools and child care centers to report lead testing results electronically. After establishment of the databases required by the bill, each school and child care center that is required pursuant to existing law or regulation to test for lead would be required to submit or resubmit its test results via the online reporting system.  Within two years after the bill is enacted into law, the NJDOE and the DCF would be required to publish a report outlining the extent of lead contamination in the drinking water of schools and child care centers, the associated need for assistance with remediation activities, and recommendations for how the state can assist schools and child care centers with remediating lead in drinking water.

Referee Background Checks  A-533 requires that a criminal history records check be conducted on any person who serves as an official for an interscholastic athletics meet, game, or tournament sanctioned by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA).

Vo-Tech/School Security Bond Proposal  S-2293/A-3902, known as the “Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act,” would send a $1 billion bond referendum to voters in November, the proceeds of which would be used to fund the expansion of county vocational-technical schools and county colleges. The legislation also sets aside funds for school security improvement grants and school district water infrastructure improvement.  The $1 billion could be used for the following purposes:

  • $400 million for county vocational school district career and technical education grants;
  • $50 million for county college career and technical education grants;
  • $450 million for school facility security grants; and
  • $100 million for school facility water infrastructure improvement grants.

The legislation now returns to the Senate, which passed a previous version of the bill in April, to concur with amendments made in the Assembly. If signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy, the bond referendum would still be subject to voter approval at the November 2018 general election.  NJSBA supports the legislation in general as it would provide resources for critically important programs and initiatives. However, the Association has expressed some concern 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 who want to expand their CTE offerings.