legupdateA-1286/S-2439 was signed by Gov. Chris Christie on May 7. The new law authorizes a school district that receives federal impact aid to establish a federal impact aid reserve account. Federal impact aid is awarded to school districts in which federal ownership of property reduces the ability to levy property taxes for educational purposes, or when certain federal activities increase a community’s population, resulting in an increase in the number of school-aged children. School districts in which military bases or federal public housing are located are likely to receive federal impact aid.

This legislation will help provide school districts near military bases, in particular, with the stability they need to continue operating without overburdening taxpayers should they be impacted by any decisions at the federal level. Under the law, the board of education may appropriate federal impact aid funds to the reserve account in the district’s annual budget, or through a transfer approved by two-thirds of the authorized membership of the board of education between June 1 and June 30, for withdrawal in any subsequent school year.

Any transfer to the reserve account may not exceed the amount of federal impact aid received in that fiscal year. The board may use the funds in the reserve account to finance the district’s general fund budget or school facilities projects, in a manner consistent with federal law. There is no limit on the amount of funds that may be on deposit in the reserve account.

The law also stipulates that a school district that establishes a reserve account would be required to report the amount received, expended and on deposit in the reserve account in its annual audit, in the required “user-friendly” budgets, at each board of education meeting and in the board secretary’s monthly report. The law also specifies that the state education commissioner may not award less state school aid to a school district based on the fact that the district receives federal impact aid. Additionally, the funds may not be considered when calculating the district’s undesignated general fund balance.

The measure was approved unanimously by both houses of the Legislature before being signed into law. NJSBA worked with the sponsors of both the senate and assembly versions of the bill and fully supports this action.

County Vocational School Construction Financing Bill Vetoed  Gov. Christie conditionally vetoed legislation (A-3970) that would permit county improvement authorities to finance the construction of new county vocational-technical schools. In hisveto statement, the governor commended the sponsors and described the measure as “a promising way to streamline the construction and financing of new vocational schools so that county vocational schools can add capacity to meet the strong demand for career-focused programs.”

However, the governor stopped short of signing the bill into law, as he recommended a few minor changes that would provide county officials flexibility to select the most appropriate contracting method and ensure that any new schools are “built in accordance with standards that guarantee safety and high quality.” The legislation, which the NJSBA supports, heads back to the Legislature, which is expected to concur with the governor’s recommendations.

Assembly Education Committee Actions  On Monday, May 11, the Assembly Education Committee released the following bills. NJSBA supports all of the proposed legislation.

  • A-3500 requires defibrillators at youth sporting events. Beginning on Sept. 1, 2015, the bill requires municipal or county recreation departments and nonprofit youth organizations (such as Little League, Babe Ruth leagues, Pop Warner leagues, Police Athletic Leagues, and youth soccer leagues), which organize, sponsor, or are otherwise affiliated with youth athletic events that are played on municipal, county, school, or other publicly-owned fields, to ensure that there is an automated external defibrillator (AED) available on site at each youth athletic event and practice held. The department or organization must designate one or more umpires, coaches or licensed athletic trainers who will be present at the athletic event or practice, to be responsible for ensuring that the AED is available on site. The designated umpire, coach or athletic trainer is required to be trained in CPR and the use of an AED in accordance with the law. Youth camps are also required to ensure there is an AED available on site, and a person available who has been trained in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and the use of an AED.
  • A-3738 would authorize the state to establish three pilot recovery alternative high schools in New Jersey. The bill would permit school districts to create one alternative high school in the northern, central and southern regions of the state for students diagnosed with substance-use disorder or dependency. The schools would offer a comprehensive four-year education and a structured plan of recovery in an alternative public school setting.Under the bill, a school district that refers a student to any of the three recovery alternative high schools would pay the student’s tuition to the school district in which the high school is located. School districts operating a recovery alternative high school would be required to submit an annual analysis of the school’s education outcomes, including graduation and retention rates, course performance and performance on state assessments, to the state Department of Education.
  • A-4119/S-300 establishes a commission to evaluate the effectiveness of before-school, after-school and summer-school programs. Under the bill, the commission will consist of 19 members including the commissioners of education, human services, and children and families, or their designees; the Secretary of Higher Education, or a designee; one member of the state senate appointed by the senate president; one member of the general assembly appointed by the general assembly speaker; and 13 public members appointed by the governor, including one representative from each of the following: the New Jersey School Boards Association; the New Jersey Council for Young Children; the Association for Children of New Jersey; the New Jersey School Age Care Coalition; the New Jersey Association of School Administrators; the New Jersey Parent-Teacher Association; the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network; the New Jersey Education Association; the New Jersey State Federation of Teachers; the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association; the New Jersey Charter Schools Association; the Advisory Committee for Nonpublic Schools of the Department of Education; and one academic researcher in the field of youth development.
  • A-4212/S-1760 would allow American Sign Language (ASL) to be used by New Jersey high school students to meet world language graduation requirements. The bill would take effect on July 1 of the first school year following enactment.
  • A-1853 establishes a pilot program in the NJDOE to recruit disadvantaged or minority men to teach in six chronically failing schools under the alternate route program. Eligible participants will be male residents of New Jersey who are from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds, are interested in pursuing a teaching career in New Jersey, and meet the eligibility criteria for enrolling in the alternate route teacher preparation program, including State Board of Education requirements for obtaining a certificate of eligibility. The purpose of the pilot program is to increase the access of disadvantaged or minority men to teaching opportunities and to provide needed high-quality teachers in chronically failing schools in the state.

Senate Education Committee Actions  The Senate Education Committee met on Thursday, May 7 to consider several bills and one resolution.  S-1805, which would allow an individual appointed as state monitor to remain employed for more than two years without the cancellation of retirement benefits, was held after concerns were raised regarding the adverse impact it could have on the state’s pension fund. With the exception of SR-105, on which the Association did not take a position, each of the following measures have the public support of NJSBA and were released from committee:

  • S-451 establishes Office of the Special Education Ombudsman in the NJDOE, which 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.
  • SR-105 urges Merriam-Webster, Inc. and the Oxford University Press to include the word upstander in the dictionary. An upstander is an individual who chooses to take positive action in the face of injustice in society or in situations in which individuals need assistance. An upstander is also a person who stands up to bullying, whether at school, home, work, a house of worship, or out with friends, family, colleagues, or teammates.
  • A-1468/S-2513 would establish a Task Force on Engineering Curriculum and Instruction in the New Jersey Department of Education. The task force would make recommendations to the State Board of Education on how to incorporate engineering curriculum into the K-12 science curriculum. Under the bill, the task force must review the Next Generation Science Standards in its efforts to develop innovative ways to teach engineering to public school students. The task force would consist of ten members, including the education commissioner, and nine public members appointed by the governor as follows: one representative each from the New Jersey School Boards Association, the New Jersey Education Association, the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association and the New Jersey Parent Teacher Association; a representative of an engineering program at a public institution of higher education; a representative of an engineering program at an independent institution of higher education; a representative of a nonprofit organization that provides science education programming in the public schools; and two representatives from New Jersey-based engineering, science, and technology businesses.
  • S-1594 would require New Jersey public schools to provide a minimum of 20 minutes a day of recess for children in grades kindergarten through five. According to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report, most school principals say that recess actually enhances the ability of children to learn in the classroom and improves academic achievement. The survey also concluded that nearly all principals surveyed believe that recess has a positive effect on the social development and general well-being of the child.  Forty percent of US schools have reduced or eliminated recess, according to Childhood Education, the bimonthly journal of the Association for Childhood Education International, and high-minority, high-poverty and urban schools have seen even greater cuts into the children’s recess time.
  • S-2275 would establish cheerleading as an official interscholastic sport in New Jersey and require additional safety measures for cheerleaders.