The Senate Education took testimony on several measures related to early childhood education March 3. NJPSA was on hand to weigh in on the proposals.
Early Child Package
The legislation establishes a five-year early childhood innovation loan pilot program for the purpose of encouraging private investment in early childhood services to reduce public expenditures related to those services.
Under the bill, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) is to establish a pilot program to guarantee loan agreements among lenders, eligible nonprofit organizations, and public sector entities. The loan agreements are to: 1) provide an eligible nonprofit organization with direct funding from a lender in exchange for the provision of services to a public sector entity; and 2) require the public sector entity receiving early childhood services to make defined payments to the lender in an amount proportional to the amount of savings generated by the provision of early childhood services. In the event that the anticipated savings are not achieved, the EDA is to provide a loan guarantee to the lender.
The EDA, lender, and eligible nonprofit organizations are also required to establish a method of measurement and verification that ensures early childhood services were performed, calculating any public sector savings resulting from those services, and determining any interest rates or payments applicable to the agreements. The bill allows the guarantees issued by the EDA to be up to 100 percent of the value of the loan agreements, with loan amounts not to exceed $3,000,000 per year or $15,000,000 in the aggregate over the five-year pilot program period.
The bill establishes a non-lapsing, revolving fund called the early childhood innovation loan fund which is to be used to guarantee pilot program loans to fund the loan program and to pay for expenses related to the administration of the loan guarantees. The loan fund may be credited with monies from State appropriations, public or private donations, grant funding, and loan guarantee program fees. The EDA is not to issue a loan guarantee in an amount greater than the available and committed moneys in the loan fund. The bill requires the EDA to solicit grants from philanthropic organizations or other private sources for the establishment and administration of the pilot program and capitalization of the loan fund.
The bill establishes the New Jersey Early Childhood Innovation Study Commission within the EDA to assist the EDA in administering the pilot program and issue annual reports concerning the pilot program. The bill requires the EDA to oversee the study commission, to determine the membership and size of the study commission, and to appoint members to the study commission. A representative of the Department of Children and Families, a representative of the Department of Education, and a representative of the Department of Human Services are to be members of the study commission. The bill directs the study commission to: 1) identify the nonprofit organizations that will be eligible to receive loan guarantees from the EDA; 2) assist the EDA in soliciting donations for the loan fund; 3) help negotiate contract terms and conditions of the loan agreements among lenders, eligible nonprofit organizations, the EDA, and public sector entities; 4) determine the necessity of retaining an independent intermediary to assist the study commission in the performance of its duties or to perform the measurement and verification functions needed to execute the loan guarantees; and 5) assist the EDA, upon request, with any other issues related to the program.
NJPSA worked with the bill sponsor to articulate specific areas that could be funded under the proposal. In addition, the bill was amended to include stakeholders, including NJPSA, on the Commission. NJPSA supported the bill as amended.
The legislation provides a supplemental appropriation of $103 million to the Department of Education to provide preschool education aid to additional school districts. Specifically, the bill directs the Commissioner of Education to provide State aid to up to 17 qualified districts for the purpose of providing free access to full-day preschool for all three- and four-year old children residing in the school district. The commissioner would determine which qualified districts would receive the aid based on the districts demonstrating their readiness to operate a preschool program consistent with the State’s preschool quality standards, with priority going to the districts with the highest concentration of at-risk pupils (defined as students residing in a household in which income does not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty guideline). Under the bill, a “qualified district” includes a school district that: 1) under the school funding law, is to provide free access to full-day preschool to all three- and four-year old children residing in the school district; 2) does not receive any other State funding to provide such access to preschool; 3) does not receive funds from a subgrant from the federal Preschool Development Grants program; and 4) has at least 75 four-year old residents who live in households in which the income does not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
NJPSA supports the measure as expanding the provision of early childhood education to more districts. The Association was also happy to see the legislation focus on high quality preschool standards.
This bill requires that all school districts provide full-day kindergarten programs to their resident students. If a school district does not currently provide a full-day kindergarten program, and is classified in district factor groups A, B, CD, or DE, then the district would be required to begin offering such a program by the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year. All other school districts would be required to provide such a program by the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year.
The bill also establishes a uniform age requirement for a student to enroll in kindergarten. Under current law, each school district determines the date by which a child must attain the age of five years in order to enroll in kindergarten; districts are also allowed to enroll a child who is not yet five years old. Under the bill, a child would have to be five years old by September 1 of the school year in order to enroll in kindergarten.
NJPSA supports the concept of full day kindergarten statewide but expressed concerns with lack of funding under the bill as well as facilities / staffing concerns.
The bill would provide a supplemental appropriation of $18 million to the Department of Human Services to expand eligibility for “wrap around” child care services provided to families in former Abbott school districts. Historically, State-funded preschool in these districts has been supplemented by “wrap around” child care services funded by the Department of Human Services, covering up to four hours of before- and after-school care during the school year, and full-day care during the summer. Beginning with the Fiscal Year 2011 appropriations act, new restrictions were imposed on eligibility for services, including a stricter income eligibility limit for families newly entering the program (currently 200 percent of the federal poverty level, though families already participating can remain eligible with incomes up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level), required copayments (on a sliding scale based on the family’s income), and work requirements (25 or 30 hours per week of employment or job training activities). This bill would restore the income eligibility limit to 250 percent of the federal poverty level for all program participants, and relax the work requirements to allow parents who work part-time to continue to receive subsidized child care beyond school day hours. NJPSA supports the legislation.
This bill establishes as a new principal department within the Executive Branch, the Department of Early Childhood, transferring functions of the current Division of Early Childhood Education in the Department of Education to the Department of Early Childhood. In addition, the bill transfers to the new department:
- all responsibilities of the Department of Education relating to students in grades preschool through three including, but not limited to, those parts of the following programs relating to this age group: teacher licensing; IDEA part B; Title I services; regional achievement centers; migrant and homeless education services; bilingual education services; parent training and information centers; and the New Jersey Council for Young Children;
- all responsibilities of the Department of Human Services relating to children from pregnancy to age eight, including but not limited to, those parts of the following programs relating to this age group: subsidized child care programs and services; child care development block grants; wraparound care; New Jersey First Steps Infant Toddler Initiative; child care resource and referral agencies; childcare workforce registry; New Jersey School-Age child care; and New Jersey Inclusive Child Care;
- all responsibilities of the Department of Children and Families relating to children from pregnancy to age eight including, but not limited to, those parts of the following programs relating to this age group: New Jersey Home Visitation Program; Help Me Grow Initiative; Project LAUNCH; New Jersey Strengthening Families Initiative; Project TEACH (Teen Education and Child Health); Parent Linking Program; and Family Success Centers;
- all responsibilities of the Department of Health relating to children from pregnancy to age eight, including but not limited to, those parts of the following programs relating to this age group: Improving Pregnancy Outcomes Program; New Jersey WIC Breastfeeding Services; home visitation programs; early intervention system under Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); and NJ Early Care and Education Learning Collaborative Project (NJ ECELC); and
- all responsibilities of the Department of Agriculture relating to child nutrition including, but not limited to, those parts of the following programs relating to child nutrition: school nutrition programs; fresh fruit and vegetable program; child and adult care food program; summer food service program; farm to school program; and farm to school and school garden fund tax check off.
In addition, the bill transfers all the functions of the Department of Children and Families regarding the licensing of child care centers and the registration of family child care providers to the new Department of Early Childhood.
Finally, the legislation requires the Commissioner of Early Childhood, in consultation with the Commissioners of Education, Human Services, Children and Families, and Health, and the Secretary of Agriculture, to develop a schedule for the orderly transfer of programs relating to early childhood and child nutrition to the new department.
NJPSA expressed some concern with the legislation as duplicative in certain areas and urged caution.
In addition, the Committee approved several other measures. These include:
- NJPSA supports the legislation.
S-757 (Beach / Ruiz) – Requires public school students with concussion to be evaluated by licensed health care professionals before return to school; requires school districts to provide restrictions or limitations to student as needed.
- NJPSA supports the legislation
S-792 (Sarlo) – Permits newly created regional school districts or enlarging regional school districts to determine apportionment methodology for their boards of education on basis other than population.
- NJPSA is monitoring the legislation.
SJR-21 (Lesniak / Vitale) – Urges President and Congress to amend Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to include substance use disorder among disabilities qualifying children for special education programs and services.
NJPSA is monitoring the legislati