Several legislative panels, including both the Senate and Assembly Education Committees, returned to the State House over the past week and advanced a number of bills impacting local school districts and students.  The following provides a rundown of the measures released by each committee.

Assembly Education Committee (Thursday, May 10)

Nepotism Policies Required A-557 requires the adoption of nepotism policies by school districts and charter schools. This bill would put into statute the current nepotism regulations to which school districts and charter schools must comply.  The bill also makes the positions of in-house school attorney and director of personnel subject to the nepotism policy.  Because this bill will require boards to update their nepotism policies to conform to the language in the bill, NJSBA got the bill amended so that boards have sixty days from the date the bill is signed into law to adopt their policies.

Instruction on College Costs A-2773/S-762 provides that, beginning with the 2018-2019 grade nine class, the State Board of Education will require that the high school graduation requirement on financial literacy include instruction on available state and federal tuition assistance programs, including grants, scholarships, and student loans. The bill also requires a school district to ensure that a high school student meets with a guidance counselor during either the second or third year of high school to discuss tuition assistance programs that may be available to the student to finance postsecondary educational opportunities. The guidance counselor must also discuss options available to the student for dual enrollment in high school and an institution of higher education that will enable the student to earn college credit while still in high school. NJSBA supports the measure.

Online Applications for School Meals  A-3501 would require the N.J. Department of Agriculture, in consultation with the N.J. Department of Education (NJDOE), to develop and make available to each school district and nonprofit nonpublic school participating in the National School Lunch Program or in a school breakfast program, an internet-based online school meal application for eligible students. Schools would be encouraged to make the online application available. A participating school district that implements the online school meal application would also be required to continue to make paper applications available. NJSBA supports the bill, which heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

IEP Awareness Month AJR-32 designates May of each year as “Individualized Education Plan (IEP) Awareness Month” in New Jersey. NJSBA supports the bill, which now heads to the full Assembly for a vote.

Promoting USDA “MyPlate” Program AR-112, a non-binding resolution, urges school districts to incorporate the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “MyPlate” program and interactive, information technology-based programs into the instruction offered under the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education.  The resolution also urges school districts to require that middle-school students annually use information technology-based programs to monitor their food consumption for a one-week period to increase their awareness of the potential impact of their food choices on their health.  MyPlate, which can be accessed online, provides practical information and recommendations to help consumers make healthier food choices. NJSBA supports the resolution.

School Security Up Next Prior to concluding the meeting, Committee Chair Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-6) announced that the committee would likely be taking up the issue of school security at its next meeting, which will likely take place on Monday, June 11..  The Assembly Education Committee teamed up with its Senate counterpart in recent weeks and held a series of joint public hearings to gather feedback from various stakeholders and members of the public on ways to improve school safety and security.

Assembly State and Local Government Committee (Thursday, May 10)

Public-Private Partnerships 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, and provides for oversight of these agreements by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. NJSBA supports the bill as it would permit, but not require, the use of a public-private partnership for school facility projects.

Electronic Procurement A-3112 authorizes local units of government subject to the “Local Public Contracts Law” and “Public School Contracts Law” (i.e., boards of education) to use electronic procurement technologies. 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.

Senate Transportation Committee (Thursday, May 10)

Electric School BusesS-723 authorizes the use of certain electric school buses and provides that the maximum overall width of an electric school bus operated in New Jersey is not to exceed 102 inches, excluding accessories. Current regulations restrict the width of all school buses to 96 inches. The increased permissible width set forth in the bill would apply to electric school buses exclusively. NJSBA supports the measure.

Senate Education Committee (Monday, May 14)

School Panic Alarms S-365/A-764 entitled “Alyssa’s Law,” which requires public school buildings to be equipped with an emergency light and panic alarm for use during a security emergency. The alarm would be linked to local law enforcement, as well as an exterior emergency light which would illuminate when the alarm button is pressed. The state, through the Schools Development Authority, would incur costs associated with installation of these panic alarms. Similar pieces of legislation have passed both houses in previous sessions, only to be vetoed by the governor. It is the hope of the sponsors that the new governor will be more receptive to this proposal. The bill is named in honor of Alyssa Alhadeff, a 14-year old student, who was killed on Feb. 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The committee amended the bills to require that the emergency light and panic alarm systems adhere to nationally recognized industry standards.  In addition, each system shall be solely installed by a New Jersey fire alarm, burglar alarm, locksmith-licensed business. NJSBA supports the measure, which will now go to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.  A-764 was passed by the full General Assembly in April.  Should the legislation pass the full Senate, it will need to return to the Assembly to concur with the committee amendments before going to the governor.

QSAC and State Takeover Districts  S-691 provides that in the case of a school district under partial or full state intervention, the state must withdraw from intervention in an area of school district effectiveness in which the district has satisfied 80 percent or more of the quality performance indicators in that area.  The bill provides further that the Commissioner of Education and the State Board of Education may not use any other factor in making the determination to withdraw from an area of school district effectiveness if the district meets or exceeds the 80 percent threshold.

Health/Phys Ed Endorsement Requirement  S-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. The NJSBA has not taken a public stance on the measure. However, the Association supports the bill’s “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. This provision acknowledges the need to grant school districts adequate time and flexibility to comply with the new endorsement requirement.

“Safe Haven” Instruction S-1126 requires public school districts with high school students to provide instruction on “New Jersey Safe Haven Infant Protection Act” as part of New Jersey Student Learning Standards. That law allows an individual to give up an unwanted infant safely, legally and anonymously. NJSBA supports the bill.

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.

Computer Science EndorsementS-1816/A-2193 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 beginning at such time as the State Board determines that there are a sufficient number of teachers holding the endorsement to make the requirement feasible. The committee amended the bill’s “grandfather” provision that would have permitted the issuance of the endorsement to any teacher who has taught computer science within the three years prior to when the State Board requires the endorsement to teach the subject.  Such teachers will still be eligible for the endorsement, but only upon demonstration, through coursework or experience, that he or she has met the requisite knowledge and skill standards established by the State Board to obtain such endorsement. A-2193 unanimously passed the full General Assembly this past March.  Should the legislation receive Senate approval, it will need to return to the Assembly to concur with the committee amendments before going to the governor. 

“Sexting” EducationS-2092/A-2189 requires a board of education to include instruction on the social, emotional, and legal consequences of distributing sexually explicit images through electronic means, a practice commonly referred to as “sexting,” once during the middle-school grades in an appropriate place in the curriculum as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education. NJSBA supports the legislation, which has already passed the full Senate.

IDEA Identification ProceduresS-2526 concerns state criteria for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability under federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.   New Jersey State Board of Education regulations currently permit school districts to use two methodologies for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability under the IDEA: (1) a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability; and (2) use of a response to scientifically based interventions methodology.  This bill requires the state to also permit a school district to utilize a third approach permitted under federal IDEA regulations, which examines whether the child exhibits a pattern of strengths and weaknesses in performance, achievement, or both, relative to age, state-approved grade-level standards, or intellectual development, that is determined by the eligibility group to be relevant to the identification of a specific learning disability, using appropriate assessments. NJSBA supports the bill.

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.