The Senate Education Committee met for the first time this legislative session, moving several measures related to students and schools. The committee meeting included the reappearance of a number of bills including a measure to statutorily eliminate the ability to regulate the salaries of school superintendents and legislation mandating recess. Also approved was an early childhood education package which would, among other things, create a new Department of Early Childhood Education.
Superintendent Salary Cap
Returning for another vetting by the Committee was S-692 (Ruiz / Sarlo) which prohibits the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) from regulating the maximum salary amount a school district may pay its superintendent of schools. The bill stems from regulatory change that happened back in 2007 that gave the executive county superintendent of schools the authority to review and approve all employment contracts for superintendents, according to standards adopted by the Commissioner of Education.
Under the provisions of N.J.A.C.6A:23A-1.2 and N.J.A.C.6A:23A-3.1, those standards provide that no contract for a superintendent is permitted to include an annual salary in excess of the “maximum salary amount,” which varies depending on the number of students enrolled in the district.
NJPSA has long testified in opposition to the cap, both at the statutory and regulatory levels. Today was no different with NJPSA Director of Government Relations Debra Bradley weighing in with fellow stakeholders, including NJASA, NJSBA and GSC, in support of the legislation.
Similarly, the Committee approved legislation, S-847 (Turner / Diegnan), which requires a public school district to provide a daily recess period for students in grades kindergarten through 5. Specifically, the ill requires that a public school district must provide a daily recess period of at least 20 minutes for students in grades kindergarten through 5. The recess period is to be held outdoors, if feasible.
Under the bill, a student may not be denied recess for any reason, other than as a consequence of a violation of the district’s code of student conduct, including a harassment, intimidation, or bullying (HIB) investigation.
The bill’s provisions would not prohibit school staff from denying recess based on medical advice or a student’s 504 plan. Also, a school district would not be required to provide a recess period on a substantially shortened school day. The bill provides that recess will not be permitted to be used to meet the current statutory requirements regarding the provision of health, safety, and physical education courses in public schools, which are set forth in State law at N.J.S.18A:35-5.
NJPSA has worked with the sponsor over several sessions to limit the impact of the legislation, including allowing for the elimination of recess for violations of student conduct, rather than just violations of harassment, intimidation and bullying; the removal of language that would have removed a school’s ability to schedule recess adjacent to lunch or gym and a provision that would have made the new requirement immediate rather than the school year following enactment.
‘Pass the Trash’
The committee also heard legislation, S-414 (Pennacchio / Bucco) which requires school districts, charter schools, and contracted service providers to review employment history of prospective employees to ascertain allegations of child abuse or sexual misconduct and includes penalties for certain willful violations.
NJPSA worked with fellow stakeholder, NJSBA, to obtain a number of amendments that define what constitutes sexual misconduct and seeks to develop a process under the bill if a former employer has not responded to an inquiry. NJPSA is committed to working with the stakeholders to address additional concerns with the legislation.
Student Physicals & Cardiac Component
In addition, the Committee approved legislation, S-631 (Gordon), expanding current requirement, N.J.S.A. 18A:40-41.6 et al. and State Board of Education regulations at N.J.A.C.6A:16-2.2(h), which requires any student enrolled in grades six through 12 on a school-sponsored interscholastic or intramural athletic team or squad to complete a physical examination using the “Preparticipation Physical Evaluation” form. Under that law, a physician, advanced practice nurse, or physician assistant who conducts the physical must have completed a Student-Athlete Cardiac Screening professional development module to increase the assessment skills of those health care practitioners. That training module emphasizes the ability to recognize and identify symptoms of cardiac disease and cardiac abnormalities among students. This bill would expand that requirement to ALL students enrolled in eighth grade.
The bill may be amended to require sixth grade, rather than eighth grade students to complete a physical examination. NJPSA is working with the sponsor on amendments to clarify that it is the school’s responsibility to serve as record keeper, rather than attester to the physician’s successful completion of the training module.
Early Childhood Package
Finally, the Committee approved a number of bills related to Early Childhood Education including legislation that would:
- S-1055 (Turner / Ruiz) – Require full-day kindergarten in all school districts and establishes uniform age requirement for enrollment in kindergarten.
The bill requires all school districts to provide full-day kindergarten programs for their 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 2019-2020 school year. All other school districts would be required to provide such a program by the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.
The legislation 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 substitute, a child would have to be five years old by September 1 of the school year in order to enroll in kindergarten.
NJPSA raised monetary and logistical concerns with the bill, urging the sponsors to assist with ascertaining funding to support the new requirement under the bill.
- S-698 (Ruiz / Beach) – Establishes Department of Early Childhood.
The bill would establish as a new principal department within the Executive Branch, the Department of Early Childhood, transferring the 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; and
- 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; services for perinatal mood disorders; 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).
- 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.
NJPSA urged the committee to, rather than creating a new department, develop a program ‘in but not of’ the Department of Education to streamline functions. Several advocates raised similar logistical concerns with the transfer. The bill sponsor is committed to working with stakeholders to address issues that are uncovered as the legislative process moves forward.
- S-696 (Ruiz / Beach) – “Early Childhood Innovation Act”; establishes early childhood innovation loan pilot program and study commission within EDA.
Specifically, the bill establishes a five-year early childhood innovation loan pilot program for the purpose of encouraging private investment in expanded early childhood services, to improve short-term and long-term outcomes for young children, and reduce long-term costs. The early childhood programs and services would include, but not be limited to, preschool education, and child nutrition, health, early intervention, home visitation, and other 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:
- provide an eligible nonprofit organization with direct funding from a lender in exchange for the provision of services to a public sector entity; and
- 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, eligible nonprofit organization, and the public sector entity are to enter into an agreement which establishes a method of measurement and verification of the early childhood services to be performed and child outcomes defined by the method of measurement, how the public sector savings will be calculated, how the eligible organization and public sector entity will ensure compliance with State and federal laws and regulations including those in regard to children with disabilities, how the interest rate will be calculated, and how the funds will flow between the parties. In the event that the Department of Education is the public sector entity that is a party to an agreement for the provision of an early childhood service to a school district, the school district will also be a party to the agreement.
The bill provides that up to 100% of the value of a loan agreement may be guaranteed by the EDA, 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 loans made under the pilot 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.
Finally, 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 detailing the progress of the pilot program. The study commission will consist of 15 members including: one representative from each of the Departments of Children and Families, Education, and Human Services; one public member appointed by the President of the Senate and one public member appointed by the Minority Leader of the Senate; one public member appointed by the Speaker of the General Assembly and one public member appointed by the Minority Leader of the General Assembly; and eight members appointed by the Governor upon the recommendation of various educational and social service organizations.
The bill directs the study commission to:
- identify the nonprofit organizations that will be eligible to receive loan guarantees from the EDA;
- assist the EDA in soliciting donations for the loan fund;
- help negotiate contract terms and conditions of the loan agreements among lenders, eligible nonprofit organizations, the EDA, and public sector entities;
- 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
- assist the EDA, upon request, with any other issues related to the program.
NJPSA expressed concern with the development of the new financial instrument and urged caution as we proceed forward.