On the eve of Governor Phil Murphy’s much-anticipated first Budget Address, the Senate and Assembly considered a host of new legislation as thirteen separate committees held hearings.
The Assembly Education Committee advanced the School Breakfast bill package addressing how schools respond to the issue of student hunger. Assembly Education Chairwoman Pam Lampitt sponsored the 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:
A-3506 (Lampitt)/S-1894 (Ruiz) – Breakfast after the Bell Mandate
A-3506/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.
A-3503 (Lampitt)/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.
A-3502 (Lampitt)/S-1896 (Ruiz) Reporting Denial of Meals
A-3502/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.
A-3504 (Lampitt)/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.
Additional bills favorably released by the Assembly Education Committee include:
A-665 (Jasey) School Temperature Controls
This legislation has been filed, in various versions over the past decade. Through the leadership of Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, A-665 was considered and approved by a diverse group of stakeholders, including NJPSA. A-665 recognizes the need for local control by requiring boards of education to adopt a policy establishing temperature control standards and guidelines for school district facilities. The policy must ensure, to the greatest extent feasible, that school buildings be maintained with a temperature-controlled environment for students and staff that is conducive to the learning process. The local policy must:
- Require that a designated staff member monitor compliance with the standards and initiate permitted corrective action;
- Establish a protocol to follow in stances where classroom temperatures are identified as not being conducive to learning;
- Identify permitted temperature control measures in line with local building and fire codes;
- Utilize the Indoor Air Quality Standard where possible; and
- Require that corrective measures be addressed where feasible by action outlined in the Indoor Air Quality Standard developed by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Guidance will be jointly developed by the NJDOE and the NJ Department of Health for districts.
A-764 (Caputo) School Panic Alarm Mandate
A-764, which has been passed and vetoed by former Governor Chris Christie twice in the past eight years, was favorably released on March 12. The legislatively-created School Security Taskforce had recommended that panic alarm/red light systems be a school security choice available for local districts to pursue at their option. The bill requires that ALL public elementary and secondary schools be equipped with a panic alarm for use in a school security emergency, including but not limited to a non-fire evacuation, lockdown, or active shooter situation. The panic alarm, not audible within the school building, must be directly linked to law enforcement authorities upon activation. The bill further requires all public schools to be equipped with a red emergency light affixed to the exterior of the building that is visible to the roadway and linked to the panic alarm. The cost of these security measures is to be funded through the proceeds of Schools Development Authority bonds.
A-1114 (Downey) – Residency issue on Military Property
This bill provides that beginning with the next school year, pupils who reside on federal property at the Naval Weapons station Earle are to be enrolled in the schools of the district in which they reside in accordance with an enrollment schedule determined by the executive county superintendent of schools.
The Assembly Judiciary considered the Aid in Dying-Terminally Ill Act, A-1504; the Assembly Labor Committee favorably released A-1827 (Lampitt) which requires New Jersey employers to provide earned sick leave to all employees excluding construction employees under a collective bargaining agreement; and the Assembly State Government Committee considered A-3499 (McKeon) which authorizes municipalities school districts or counties to establish charitable funds and permits property tax credits for certain donations. A-3499 is the Legislature’s attempt to address the federal IRS restrictions limiting tax deductions to $10,000 on income tax filings beginning in 2018 (SALT).