As Lame Duck Session Begins, Governor Murphy Acts on June 2020 Legislation – New School Laws Address School Nurse Shortage, Suicide Prevention, Impact Aid and Bus Drivers

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By:  Debra Bradley, Esq. and Jennie Lamon, NJPSA Government Relations

After a tumultuous Election Day, the State Legislature got back to business on Monday, November 8, 2021, ending a long summer recess.  The Senate’s return and call for a quorum signaled the deadline for Governor Murphy to act on over 90 pieces of legislation that had been under his consideration since passage in June.  A significant number of these bills will impact our schools and NJPSA members.

Bills Signed Into Law

P.L.2021, c.261 Requires certain student identification cards to contain telephone number for suicide prevention hotline. S-550/A-1616 was signed into law by Governor Murphy on November 8, 2021. This new law requires a public school that includes any of the grades seven through 12 and that issues student identification cards shall have printed on the back of the student identification cards the telephone number for the New Jersey Suicide Prevention Hopeline (NJ Hopeline) and contact information for a crisis text line. Additionally, the bill states that a public school that includes any of the grades seven through 12 and that issues student identification cards, may, in addition to the telephone number for the NJ Hopeline and contact information for a crisis text line, provide contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, an on-campus crisis center, or any other mental health support service. The bill takes effect at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year.

P.L.2021, c.279 Establishes an alternate route to expedite certification of teachers at early college high school programs  S-3253/A-2619 was signed into law by Governor Murphy on November 8, 2021. This bill requires the state Board of Education to authorize an alternate route to expedite the certification of job candidates to teach grades seven through 12 at an early college high school. The alternate route will consist of a three-tiered certificate program, similar to the alternate route provided for charter school teachers. This certification would be used only for employment at an early college high school, not in any other public school.

P.L.2021, c.283.Authorizes supplemental State aid to school districts receiving certain federal Impact Aid; makes appropriation. S-3948/A-5896 was signed into law by Governor Murphy on November 8, 2021. This bill establishes an additional category of State school aid known as military impact aid.  A school district would be eligible for this category of aid if it received a Basic Support Payment of federal Impact Aid in the prior fiscal year and the district provides free public education to federally connected children whose parents are on active duty in the uniformed services.  The Federal Impact Aid Program provides financial assistance to school districts that include within their boundaries parcels of land owned by the federal government or that are exempt from local taxation by the federal government.  Part of the Federal Impact Aid Program provides for Basic Support Payments that help school districts that educate federally connected children, including the children of members of the uniformed services. This act takes effect immediately. 

P.L.2021, c.296.Permits school nurse who is retired from TPAF to return to employment for up to two years without reenrollment in TPAF. A-4544/S-3150  was signed into law by Governor Murphy on November 8, 2021 and aims to alleviate the statewide shortage of school nurses. Under the bill, a certified school nurse who is retired from the teachers pension system is permitted to return to work full time as a certified school nurse with a board of education without being re-enrolled in the system. Such nurses would be permitted to return to work under a contract for one year, which may be renewed for one additional year. Employment beyond two years would require the approval of the Commissioner of Education. The bill’s provisions mirror those concerning the employment of retired superintendents on an interim basis. NJPSA supported this measure, which takes effect immediately. 

P.L.2021, c.306 Revises violation and fines for approving or assigning unauthorized individuals as school bus drivers. A-5817/S-3852 was signed into law by Governor Murphy on November 8, 2021. This bill amends current law to hold a board of education or school bus contractor responsible if they approve or assign an individual, as a driver or substitute driver of a school bus, without first complying with existing provisions of law concerning the training, certification, and criminal history record checks of school bus drivers. The bill increases the fines associated with such an action from not more than $5,000 for each offense to not more than $5,000 for the first offense, not more than $10,000 for the second offense, and not more than $15,000 for a third and each subsequent offense. The bill clarifies that it will not be a defense to avoid liability that a board of education or contractor unknowingly failed to comply with the provisions of law concerning the training, certification, and criminal history record checks of school bus drivers. This act takes effect immediately. 

P.L.2021, c.307 Provides for debarment of school bus contractors for certain violations; requires certain information in pupil transportation contract bid. .A-5818/S-3849 was signed into law by Governor Murphy on November 8, 2021. This bill provides that a list be posted on the New Jersey Department of Education’s  website of people who, because of a variety of illegal acts, are not allowed to bid on pupil transportation contracts. This list would be distributed to each school district and board of education in the state by March 1 of each year. Under the bill, the NJDOE is required to blacklist any person who fails to comply with rules pertaining to the qualification of school bus drivers and school bus inspections. The commission of a criminal offense while attempting to obtain a public or private contract would be grounds for blacklisting. The commission of a criminal offense, including child abuse or sexual misconduct involving a child, would also be grounds to prevent a person from bidding on a pupil transportation contract. While the governor signed this measure into law, it will not become effective until the enactment of separate legislation (S-3851/A-5814) that would create a school bus safety ombudsman position in the state Department of Education. That measure has passed the full Assembly and is pending Senate approval. In addition, it will only apply to future pupil transportation contracts.

Bills Conditionally Vetoed

Governor Murphy recommended changes to the Legislature on the bills listed below by issuing a conditional veto (CV). With a CV, the Legislature can either accept the Governor’s recommendations or attempt to override them through a supermajority vote.   

Student Journalists’ Rights  S-108/A-169: This legislation concerns the speech rights of student journalists at public schools and public institutions of higher education. NJPSA advocated strongly in opposition of this legislation which would effectively eliminate an administrator’s ability to exercise editorial review over school publications and school media prior to publication as protected by the United State Supreme Court in the landmark case of Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 269, 273 (1988).  Despite strong testimony from the association, including that of NJPSA President Mike Vinella, Principal of East Brunswick High School, numerous meetings with bill sponsors and legislative leaders, the legislation passed both houses unanimously in June. Due to the importance of the issues at stake, NJPSA continued its advocacy by meeting with representatives of the Governor’s office seeking modifications to the legislative language.  NJPSA is pleased that Governor Murphy heard our voices and issued his CV message recognizing the need for school administration to balance the competing interests of student speech, a safe and positive school climate, and the orderly operations of school.

Veto Statement

Regionalization  S-3488/A-5537: This legislation modifies certain procedures pertaining to school district regionalization; establishes a grant program for cost reimbursement for districts voluntarily conducting regionalization feasibility studies; and provides financial incentives for regionalization.

During the legislative process, NJPSA was able to secure significant amendments to this legislation to ensure that any regionalization efforts are voluntary, that an incentives-based approach is utilized to support such efforts, and that clear language was included to protect the tenure, seniority and collective bargaining rights of NJPSA members.  Senate President Steve Sweeney worked collaboratively with NJPSA and our fellow education associations to address these and other concerns.  As a result, the school community, NJPSA, NJSBA, NJEA, NJASA and the Garden State Coalition of Schools (GSCS) all supported this legislation. 

On November 8, Governor Murphy returned the legislation (S-3488) to the Legislature for reconsideration of his proposed changes which would ensure that the voting rights of sending districts remain consistent with current law, even in the circumstance of  when a limited purpose regional district is converted to an all-purpose regional district pursuant to S-3488. 

Veto Statement

Special Education Unit   S-2160/A-5701: This legislation establishes a special education unit within the Office of Administrative Law.

NJPSA has long-supported the concept of this legislation to provide expertise within the Office of Administrative Law in the area of special education to hear the many cases that arise in this area.  Over the past two decades, the number of contested cases has risen by 80%, resulting in long delays in resolution of a student’s placement. Governor Murphy supported the goals of this legislation.  His conditional veto simply delayed the implementation timeline to the 25th month following enactment in order to allow for the appointment and confirmation of 15 additional administrative law judges to staff this unit properly. 

Veto Statement

Culturally Responsive Teaching S-2834/A-5312: This legislation mandates training on culturally responsive teaching for all candidates for teaching certification.

NJPSA supported the establishment of this preservice requirement for teacher certification.  Culturally responsive teaching is defined as a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning, and which uses research-based teaching strategies that make meaningful connections between what students learn in school and their cultures, languages and experiences.  Governor Murphy’s CV would make the bill applicable during the 2022-2023 school year in order to give higher education institutions the time to update their programs and teacher candidates’ notice of the new requirement.  His message also notes the significant teacher shortage at this time and his desire not to aggravate the shortage with the current timeline of the bill. 

Veto Statement

Robotics S-2204/A-2455: This legislation creates a pilot program in the state Department of Education to support FIRST Robotics Programs in school districts.

NJPSA supported this legislation creating a three-year pilot program (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology FIRST). Governor Murphy expanded the eligibility beyond FIRST to any nonprofit organization with a demonstrated ability to inspire students through mentor-based programs in STEM.

Veto Statement

Youth Services Program Grants A-4435/S-2717: Requires the New Jersey Department of Children and Families to give priority to certain school districts with student mental health counseling centers in awarding grants under the School Based Youth Services Program.

This legislation sought to prioritize certain types of mental health supports (counseling centers) to students to be provided in the Department of Children and Families (DCF)’s discretionary grant program, regularly referred to as the School-based Youth Services Program.  Many NJPSA members reached out to NJPSA in the past to preserve funding of this program in the state budget due to the critical services the grants support in their schools. NJPSA did successfully obtain some amendments to the legislation during the legislative process.

Governor Murphy’s CV notes the critical importance of the many services supported by DCF’s School-Linked Services grants that are provided directly to school districts and to other contractors.  His CV expands DCF’s discretion in awarding the grants, expands the language beyond counseling centers to programs that provide “access to” counseling services, and adds a two-year sunset provision to re-evaluate the program after that time period. 

Veto Statement

Mental Health Partnerships A-4433/S-2715: The legislation creates a grant program to encourage school districts to partner with institutions of higher education in training school-based mental health services providers.

NJPSA worked with Assembly sponsor Lou Greenwald in support of his legislation to address the shortage of mental health counselors, school psychologists, school social workers and other mental health professionals in schools.  The bill provides grants for school districts to partner with higher education institutions to  create and grow programs to train graduate students to become school-based mental health service providers.  In support of the goals of the program, Governor Murphy’s CV appropriates $500,000 to the Department of Education to operate the grant program.

Veto Statement

Loan Redemption  S-969/A-2687: This legislation establishes a loan redemption program for teachers in certain fields to redeem loan amounts received under New Jersey College Loans to Assist State Students Loan Program through employment in certain low performing schools.

NJPSA supported this legislation to incentivize new educators to work in high need fields in low performing schools. Governor Murphy’s CV adds an appropriation of $1million annually to Higher Education Student Assistance Authority to operate the loan redemption program.  He also recommended aligning the loan redemption program to the terms available to STEM teachers under a similar program (25% of the principal and interest for up to a four year period with a maximum redemption of $20,000).  

Veto Statement

The Legislature will now consider the Governor’s recommendations in the lame duck session ahead.  Stay tuned!