Assembly Ed Committee Moves Several Bills In Possible Sole Meeting In Lameduck

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The Assembly Education Committee moved several measures affecting students and schools on December 4 at possibly the last meeting of this session.

Chronic Absenteeism Measure

Advocates for Children of New Jersey has long sought legislation, A-2352 / S-447 (Vainieri Huttle / Muoio / Singleton / Allen / Ruiz), which would require the Commissioner of Education to include data on chronic absenteeism and disciplinary suspensions on the School Report Card and require public schools to make certain efforts to combat chronic absenteeism.  Today the legislation was one step closer to reality.

Specifically, the bill would require that, in the event that 10 percent or more of the students enrolled in a public school are chronically absent, the school must develop a corrective action plan to improve absenteeism rates. The plan must include, but need not be limited to:

  • identifying problems and barriers to school attendance;
  • developing recommendations to address those problems and barriers;
  • outlining communication strategies to educate parents on the importance of school attendance;
  • establishing protocols on informing and engaging parents when a child begins to show a pattern of absences; and
  • reviewing school policies to ensure that they support improved school attendance.

Under the bill, the school must solicit input from parents through multiple means, including through the administration of a survey, engaging with the school’s parent organization, and, if the school does not have a parent organization, holding a public meeting to provide parents with the opportunity to provide input. The school would be required to present its corrective action plan to the board of education. The school would annually review and revise the plan, and present the revisions to the board, until the percent of students who are chronically absent is less than 10 percent.

The bill would also require the Commissioner of Education to include data on the number and percentage of students who were chronically absent, and the number and percentage of students who received a disciplinary suspension in the school report cards.  This information is currently on the State Performance Reports.

The commissioner must annually review the chronic absenteeism rates of each school and school district and report on the rates to the State Board of Education.  Chronic absenteeism was included in the State’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan earlier this year as the school wide metric.  NJPSA is monitoring the legislation after successfully working to eliminate a requirement that would have mandated the establishment of a new committee to examine absence issues which would have included a parent, in light of student privacy concerns.

In addition to ACNJ, the bill is supported by the League of Women Voters, the Junior League as well as several education groups including NJASA, NJEA, NJPTA, Garden State Coalition of Schools (GSCS), JerseyCAN and NJSBA.

Dual Language Immersion

In addition, the Committee approved legislation, A-4318 / S-2704 (Benson / DeCroce, B. / Diegnan / Ruiz), which would require the Commissioner of Education to establish a grant program for school districts and charter schools to develop dual language immersion programs in the north, south and central regions of the State.  he program would provide grants to school districts and charter schools to develop dual language immersion programs in Chinese, Spanish, French, or any other language approved by the commissioner.  To be eligible for the funds, a school district or charter school would have to provide at least 50 percent of its instruction in English and 50 percent of its instruction in Chinese, Spanish, French, or any other language approved by the commissioner.  The program would have to begin in kindergarten or in grade one and would need to meet any other requirements established by the commissioner.

The bill also establishes the Dual Language Immersion Program Fund as a non-lapsing revolving fund in the Department of Education to finance the grant program.  The fund will be credited with all moneys appropriated by the Legislature, any gifts, grants, or donations made to the fund, and any other available revenue.

NJPSA supports the legislation.

Fire Suppression Systems

Further, the Board approved legislation, A-5074 (Quijano) which directs the Department of Community Affairs to survey fire suppression systems in public and nonpublic school buildings.  The division would share the results of the survey with the Department of Education.  For each building, the survey would have to include the following information:

  1. whether a fire suppression system is installed and operational;
  2. the year in which an existing fire suppression system was installed and any year in which additional piping or standpipes were added to the system or an additional system was installed in the same structure;
  3. the cost of curing any defect if an installed fire suppression system is not fully operational; and
  4. the cost of a reinstallation or annual maintenance of a fire suppression system that is inadequate or not fully operational.

NJPSA supports the legislation.  The NJ Fire Advisory Board also testified in favor of the legislation.

Water Safety Instruction

Additionally, the Committee approved merged legislation, A-5155/A-5159 (Quijano/ Kean, S / Munoz, N. / Vainieri Huttle), which requires the current New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Comprehensive Health and Physical Education be reviewed by the State Board of Education for inclusion of instruction on water safety, where appropriate.

Under the provisions of the substitute, the instructional standards will provide students with information on:

  1. the nature and danger of rip tides;
  2. the importance of learning about water conditions and beach safety practices, particularly for student populations that do not reside near beach communities;
  3. hand signs that may be used to indicate swimmer distress; and
  4. the sightline limitations of lifeguards and others monitoring swimmers from the beach.

NJPSA worked with the sponsor to seek incorporation of the requirements within the existing standards.  

Guidance For Special Needs English Language Learners

Moreover, the Committee approved legislation, A-5204 (Caride) which would require the Commissioner of Education to develop guidance on identifying English language learners who have special needs. NJPSA supports the legislation.

Career & Technical Ed Month

AR-113 (DeAngelo / McKnight) was also approved by the body.  That legislation designates February 2018 as “Career and Technical Education Month” in New Jersey.   NJPSA supports the bill.

Including Substance Abuse In IDEA

Finally, the Committee approved a bill, AJR-81 (Diegnan / Pinkin) which 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 legislation.