NJSBA-supported legislation that retroactively reimburses school districts for lead testing of drinking water was signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie last week, one of several measures impacting New Jersey’s public school districts that the governor acted on recently.

A summary of four measures the governor signed into law, as well as one he conditionally vetoed, is as follows:

Reimbursement for Lead Testing Effectively immediately, A-4284/S-2675 (P.L.2017, c.86), provides financial relief to school districts that performed lead testing prior to the time when the Legislature and governor included funds for such testing in the current year budget. Specifically, the bill provides that school districts may receive reimbursement for costs incurred on or after Jan. 1, 2016 for testing school drinking water for lead. The annual state budget for fiscal year 2016-2017 included a $10 million appropriation for such reimbursement, but only for testing done after the date the money was made available (July 13, 2016). This bill allows for retroactive reimbursement to the beginning of 2016 if the lead testing meets or exceeds the program requirements established by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE). NJSBA supported this legislation and actively advocated for the funding it provides. For more information on the NJDOE’s school water lead testing program, click here.

During a recent presentation to the State Board of Education, the NJDOE reported that, as of April 3, 62 percent of districts and 52 percent of charter schools had completed the required testing. However, staff also indicated that the department had only received 47 eligible requests for reimbursement. On April 11, NJDOE sent a memo to superintendents, business administrators, charter school lead persons, and other administrators to remind them of the deadlines for testing for lead in schools. School districts are encouraged to complete the required testing and submit their reimbursement requests as soon as possible.

Homeless Student Tuition The governor also signed A-3785/S-2396 (P.L.2017, c.83), which requires the state to pay the educational costs of a student who resides for more than one year in a homeless shelter located outside the student’s district of residence. A series of administrative law decisions have ruled that if a homeless family continues to reside in a particular school district for more than one year, then the family is considered to be domiciled in that district, and the district becomes responsible for the costs of the child’s education. The purpose of the bill is to avoid concentrating the educational costs of students who live in homeless shelters for extended periods on the districts in which those shelters are located.

NJSBA supported the measure, which will become applicable at the start of the 2017-2018 school year.

School Nurse Certification A third new law requires State Board of Education regulations regarding school nurse certification to include certain minimum eligibility requirements.

In July of 2013, the State Board adopted amendments to the certification requirements, which reduced credit requirements for a school nurse endorsement from 30 to 21 semester hour credits, and reduced credit requirements for a non-instructional school nurse endorsement from 21 to 15 semester hour credits. Those amendments also eliminated the requirement that a candidate for a school nurse endorsement complete a minimum of 6 credits in a college-supervised school nurse practicum, half of which is completed in a school nurse office and the balance of which is completed in a classroom. The intent of those changes was to simplify certification requirements, address the mismatch between the supply and demand of nurses, maintain health and safety, and increase hiring flexibility for school districts.

A-1256/S-1381 (P.L.2017, c.70) essentially codifies into law the amendments to the school nurse credit requirements adopted by the New Jersey State Board of Education in June 2013. However, the bill also reinstituted the requirement that a candidate for a school nurse endorsement complete a practicum experience, which was eliminated by the State Board in 2013. In addition, the bill specifies that the fundamentals of substance abuse and dependency will be one of the subject areas required to be studied in order to receive a school nurse endorsement or a school nurse/non-instructional endorsement. That particular subject area was eliminated as a pre-certification requirement under the 2013 regulations. For a more detailed analysis of the bill’s history, click here.

Military Uniforms at GraduationA-4019/S-2491 (P.L.2017, 84) permits eligible students who are members of the United States Armed Forces to wear military uniforms at high school graduation. This measure requires school districts to allow eligible students to wear a dress uniform issued by the United States Armed Forces while participating in their high school graduation ceremony. Under the law, a student will be permitted to wear a dress uniform at graduation if: (1) the student has fulfilled all state and local requirements for receiving a high school diploma and is otherwise eligible to participate in the high school graduation ceremony; and (2) the student has completed basic training for, and is an active member of, a branch of the United States Armed Forces.  The law goes into effect on Aug. 1, 2017.

Steroid Abuse Bill Vetoed The governor conditionally vetoedA-2353/S-367, which establishes measures to deter the use of steroids and performance-enhancing supplements among the state’s middle school and high school students, and implements the recommendations of the December 2005 report of the Governor’s Task Force on Steroid Use and Prevention. As passed by the Legislature, the bill appropriates $45,000 to the state Department of Education for New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) testing of student-athletes for steroids and other performance-enhancing substances.

Under the bill’s provisions, any person who coaches a public school district or non-public school interscholastic sport, dance, or cheerleading team must incorporate into the team’s training activities a gender-specific program designed to reduce the use of steroids and performance-enhancing supplements, alcohol, and drugs; and to promote healthy nutrition and exercise. The program must have a team-centered design that provides a non-stigmatizing atmosphere and includes gender-specific content to address the risks of substance abuse that are unique to male and female adolescents. The program developed by the coach must be submitted to the athletic director of the school district or non-public school for approval. Additionally, the bill establishes the third week in September as “Steroid Awareness Week” in New Jersey and requires school districts to observe this week by organizing activities to raise awareness of the hazards of using steroids and performance-enhancing supplements. The NJSBA supports the measure.

While supportive of the bill’s intent, the governor returned the bill to the Legislature with recommended changes. The governor recommended removing the $45,000 appropriation from the bill, stating that such “appropriations should be considered in the context of negotiating a balanced budget, not through piecemeal legislation.” The governor also recommended having the state Department of Health, rather than the NJSIAA, administer the proposed steroid testing and training program.