As the Legislature continues to meet remotely, several bills on NJPSA’s tracking list had action this week. Thank you to the NJPSA Legislative Committee and all of the members who contributed their input on bills as they were being posted this week.
As you know, each school district in the state is required to periodically undergo a comprehensive review by the New Jersey Department of Education under the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum. Districts are reviewed on a staggered schedule. Noting the disruption to that schedule caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and aiming to ensure that school districts and the Department of Education are able to focus their time and resources on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday voted to advance A-4006,and postpone NJQSAC reviews scheduled for the 2019-2020 school year that were not completed because of COVID-19 school closures, or those scheduled for the 2020-2021 school year. These reviews will be rescheduled for the 2021-2022 school year. The bill further stipulates that all school districts that are not subject to the bill’s provisions will continue to be monitored according to their regular three-year schedule. The postponements permitted under this bill will not disrupt the schedule for any other school district’s comprehensive review. This bill would still need to be passed by the full General Assembly, as well as have a hearing and vote in the Senate before it could go to the Governor’s desk for his signature into law.
Another bill that advanced on Wednesday provides that individuals attending school-sponsored graduation exercises between July 1, 2020 and August 31, 2020, who have graduated from the school in the immediately preceding school year will, for purposes of any insurance coverages afforded the school’s registered and enrolled student population beginning July 1, 2020, be considered included in the enrolled and registered student population while attending the graduation exercises. As A-4227 was originally drafted, the insurance coverage was extended through July 31st. This bill was amended in Committee. Once some of our school building leaders alerted us that some of your graduations were scheduled for August, we were able to work with the sponsor and have the bill amended to extend the timeline out to the end of August. This bill would still need to be passed by the full General Assembly, as well as have a hearing and vote in the Senate before it could go to the Governor’s desk for his signature into law.
The issue of equitable access to technology and the internet has certainly taken center-stage with the closure of schools caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. During a hearing earlier this month, the Commissioner of the NJDOE indicated that the number of students without access to a digital device and/or the internet remains as of today at 89,000 families. We recognize the strong efforts that have been made, but acknowledge that far too many students still do not have access to the critical lifeline to their learning in a remote setting and that must end. Although Congress has passed the CARES Act to provide some funding to districts based upon their Title I eligibility status, it will not be enough to cover all these new costs. Forty-one New Jersey districts will not receive CARES Act funding at all. The HEROES Act, most recently passed by the House, only provided $1.5 billion for this purpose, and the US Senate has indicated it will not consider the HEROES Act at all, and will instead present its own proposal sometime later this summer. Absent an additional round of federal emergency response funding that dedicates monies to expanding access to online instruction for economically disadvantaged students, these students will continue to fall further behind their classmates, thereby prolonging the educational disparities that result from the outbreak of COVID-19. As a model for this funding, the “Emergency Educational Connections Act of 2020,” pending before Congress as H.R.6563, would appropriate $2 billion to the federal E-Rate Program for schools and libraries to purchase Wi-fi hotspots, connected devices (e.g., laptops, tablets, etc.), and other equipment necessary for students and staff members to access online instruction during the COVID-19 public health emergency. ACR-171 petitions the federal government to take such action as is necessary to ensure that all students have equitable access to online instruction in the event of an extension of the public health-related school closure, or another closure in the future. NJPSA strongly endorses this legislation. NJPSA initiated this legislative action by meeting with the bill sponsors on this issue. This Resolution now has to be voted on by the full General Assembly before it can be filed with the Secretary of State.
On Thursday of this week, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee advanced a measure that would delay the physical examination requirement for student-athletes who participate in school-sponsored athletic activities during the fall athletic season of the 2020-2021 school year. S-2518 was drafted in response to the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the state’s health care system. The bill as originally drafted was notably broader and was amended significantly by the Committee. As amended, the bill would permit a student-athlete who has not completed a physical examination within 365 days prior to the first day of official practice in the athletic season, as required under current law, to participate in a school-sponsored interscholastic or intramural athletic team or squad during that athletic season, provided that the student-athlete completes the physical examination before the end of the athletic season. The amendments also require the NJ Department of Education to prepare an updated health history update questionnaire, which in addition to the information required under current statute, will include questions about the student-athlete’s exposure to or contact with COVID-19. If the student-athlete answers in the affirmative to any question included in the health history update questionnaire, then the student-athlete may not participate on the school-sponsored interscholastic or intramural athletic team or squad until he or she is further evaluated by the school physician, or if a school physician is not available, any other licensed physician. This bill will now go to the full Senate for a vote. We expect that to be as soon as Monday June 15th. There is not currently an Assembly companion to this bill. The General Assembly would have to approve this bill before it could go to the Governor for his signature.
As the Legislature continues to meet remotely, your NJPSA Government Relations team will continue to track, monitor and weigh in on all of the bills that impact you, your students, staff and buildings. If you have any questions about any of the bills considered this week, or any others, please do not hesitate to contact Director of Government Relations Debbie Bradley at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or Assistant DIrector of Government Relations Jennie Lamon at email@example.com at any time.