The Senate Education Committee favorably released a series of bills today addressing school breakfast and lunch programs, expanding requirements on districts to address chronic absenteeism, promoting apprenticeship training in high school and recognizing the month of March 2018 as Youth Art Month.
The main focus of the committee was a bill package addressing school breakfast and lunch to students in need. Senate Education Chairwoman Teresa Ruiz (D-29) sponsored a bill package aimed at enhancing student participation in school breakfast, lunch and summer meal programs. The bill package, which was supported by a broad range of organizations, contained the following bills:
S-1894 (Ruiz) – Breakfast After the Bell Mandate
S-1894 establishes a new state requirement for all individual schools in which 70% or more of enrolled students are eligible for free or reduced price meals pursuant to the National School Lunch Program or the federal School Breakfast Program. The bill requires these school to establish a school “breakfast after the bell” program. Breakfast After the Bell programs provide students with breakfast after the start of the school day, in a variety of options including breakfast served within classrooms, grab and go programs and kiosk systems. Schools impacted by the legislation must submit a plan for the establishment of the Breakfast After the Bell program for all relevant grades at each school within six months of the signing of the bill into law. Implementation must begin no later than the first full school year following the submission of the plan.
NJPSA supported the goals of this legislation recognizing the importance of a nutritious breakfast at the start of the school day as the foundation for learning. NJPSA did successfully seek amendments providing for local flexibility for schools that are already effectively providing breakfast to the vast majority of eligible students. The amendments establish a waiver process through the Department of Agriculture for schools that are successfully providing breakfast to 70% of eligible students.
S-1895 (Ruiz) Nonparticipation Reporting – Community Eligibility Provision
This bill requires every school district which has at least one school that qualifies for the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs to report if the district is not participating in the community option. The CEP is a federal program option under the US Department of Agriculture’s National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs. It allows schools that serve a high proportion of low-income students to offer free breakfast and lunch to ALL students rather than collection individual student application from low-income students only for these meals. School’s eligibility for CEP is based on data from other federal programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Temporary Assistance Program for Needy Facilities (TANF). The bill requires districts who choose not to participate in CEP to explain why, to identify the barriers to participation and potential action steps toward participation in the future.
S-1896 (Ruiz) Reporting Denial of Meals
S-1896 requires school districts to report, on a quarterly basis, to the Department of Agriculture, the number of students who are denied school breakfast or lunch due to the fact that the student’s meal account was in arrears. This information will be reported to the NJ Department of Education.
S-1897 (Ruiz) – Summer Meal Programs
This legislation expands summer meal programs to all school districts with 50% or more enrolled students who are eligible for free or reduced meals. The bill requires every district in which 50% or more of the enrolled students are eligible for free and reduced price meals to become a sponsor of the federal Summer Food Service Program. Impacted districts have one year from the date of enactment to develop a plan or seek a waiver of this requirement. The Summer Food Service Program is a federal program that reimburses sponsors for administration and operational costs to provide meals for children age 18 and younger during the summer. Locally approved sponsors including school districts, municipalities and nonprofits run the Summer Food Service Program which provides free meals at a central site such as a school or community center. The bill does permit the Department of Agriculture to grant a waiver to a school district if a different sponsor currently runs this program.
In addition to the bills referenced, the Committee considered the following bills:
S-1876 (Ruiz/Corrado) – Chronic Absenteeism
The Committee favorably released S-1876, legislation that was approved in the last legislative session but vetoed by former Governor Chris Christie. The bill requires the Commissioner of Education to include data on chronic absenteeism and disciplinary suspension on each School Performance Report. The Senate Education Committee amended the bill to require that this information be disaggregated by subgroup. Additionally, the bill requires schools where 10% or more of the enrolled students are chronically absent, to develop a corrective action plan. The CAP must include a communication plan to parents on the importance of school attendance. The school is also required to survey parents, work with its local parents’ organization or alternatively to hold a public hearing for parents to provide input on this issue. The term chronically absent is defined by New Jersey’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan that has been approved by the U.S. Department of Education.
S-372 (Rice/ Singleton) – Youth Apprenticeship Training
S-372 requires the Commissioner of Education, in consultation with the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development, to develop guidelines for school guidance counselors to utilize to encourage high school students to participate in apprenticeship training. The guidelines, to be updated annually, will guide counselors on how to coordinate services with representatives of the NJ State Building and Construction Trades Council to promote student awareness of apprenticeship opportunities NJPSA supported the bill.
SR-47 (Turner) Youth Art Month
This resolution recognizes March 2018 as Youth Art Month in New Jersey.
For additional information about this legislation, please contact Debra Bradley, Director, NJPSA Government Relations Department.