The NJ State Legislature continues to meet remotely. This week saw the advancement of several important measures.
High School Student Bridge Year
One issue that NJPSA engaged on, a bill enabling graduating high school seniors from the classes of 2021 and 2022 to participate in a ‘bridge year’ immediately following their senior year, has cleared the Assembly Appropriations committee and passed the full Senate. Intended to help offset missed opportunities and potential learning loss,S-2383/ A-4142 directs the Commissioner of Education to establish a three-year “Bridge Year Pilot Program” allowing students pursue a bridge year, after high school graduation and while taking a certain number of community college credits with non-matriculated status. During this year, students would be able to participate, under certain conditions, in extracurricular activities offered by their”host” (home) high school and in spring sports (only) as permitted by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association. NJPSA submitted testimony expressing concerns about the legislation which include the:
- potential fiscal impact of this program,
- staffing concerns as a bridge year liaison is required in the high school,
- the perpetuation of unfairness and lost opportunities through the displacement of younger students in high school sports and extracurricular activities,
- the physical and emotional differences that would be evident between the younger and bridge year students (must be age 18 or 19 only),
- Code of conduct and the application of all school rules to the bridge year student, and
- Insurance concerns.
The sponsor was willing to work with NJPSA on addressing some of our concerns and ultimately a Committee Substitute was released. While NJPSA could still not support the Committee Substitute, the association did achieve important amendments. The measure still needs a full Assembly vote before heading to Governor Murphy’s desk.
School District Borrowing
Another bill, Assembly bill A-4127 advanced in committee this week. With the goal of giving local governments and school districts greater financial flexibility, this legislation would authorize certain borrowing in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency and economic crisis. Specifically, it would authorize local units as well as school districts to issue refunding bonds to repay a Federal Emergency Management Agency Community Disaster Loan. The measure would also allow a municipality or county to issue special emergency notes to appropriate funds, and a local authority to borrow funds to cover COVID-19 response and recovery costs. This bill still needs full Senate and Assembly approval before advancing to the Governor for his signature. It is permissive, offering districts a tool to borrow if the district chooses to use it.
Deferred or Partial Tax Payments to Schools
NJPSA submitted comprehensive testimony to both houses on a third measure this week. This bill, which would provide local governments greater flexibility to manage public services under the disruptions imposed by the COVID-19 health crisis was voted out of both houses on Thursday this week. A-3969/S-2392 now heads to the Governor for his signature.
The bill would allow for adjusted requirements for various timeframes, deadlines, and notifications so that local government can respond to the emergent needs of their residents during public emergencies. The flexibility would apply to property tax collections and payments, remote meetings, and extensions for various local government deadlines. It would extend a series of existing deadlines for a variety of fiscal actions that municipalities routinely make.
More importantly, the bill would authorize the Director of the Division of Local Government Services to permit municipalities to submit only a partial payment of tax revenues to school districts during this emergency period. The Director would consider certain criteria impacting the municipal government to determine the municipality’s eligibility for a partial payment and consult with the Commissioner of Education concerning the district’s status. The actions allowed by the legislation would apply only during declared emergencies. NJPSA expressed significant concerns about a potential delay or pro-ration of the payment of tax revenues by municipalities to school districts during the current COVID-19 crisis and continues to seek clarification of the provisions of the bill. Our concerns centered on whether this new authority granted the Director of the Division of Local Government Services supersedes existing law that requires municipalities to borrow funds to make full payments due to school districts. NJPSA asked for clarifying language to clearly require districts to do so.
At the federal level, the United States House of Representatives introduced H.R. 6800, the ”Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act” (HEROES Act) this week. This legislation, a second installment of the Federal Coronavirus Economic Relief Plan, proposes an additional $3 trillion dollars in COVID-19 response related funding. The nearly 1900 page bill proposes $100.15 billion dollars in proposed funds for education. $90 billion would go into a State Fiscal Stabilization Fund for grants to states to support funding for elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools. K – 12 education would receive $58 billion out of that number that would be distributed to local school districts based on Title 1. Higher education would receive the balance of the funding. The bill would also authorize $5 billion for the E-Rate program to help address the “homework gap”, but for reasons that are not immediately clear, would actually appropriate far less than the amount authorized. It is well understood that this bill lacks the bipartisan support of the original CARES Act and has been deemed by some “dead on arrival” in the U.S. Senate. NJPSA will continue to monitor and share the movement of H.R. 6800 and any other relevant federal legislation.
If you have questions or would like additional information about these, or any pieces of legislation, please reach out to your NJPSA GR team at any time. Director of Government Relations Debbie Bradley at email@example.com or Jennie Lamon, Assistant Director of Government Relations: firstname.lastname@example.org.