-Jennie Lamon, NJPSA Assistant Director of Government Relations
This week began with a new law on the books, as Governor Murphy Murphy signed S-1553, the bill that eliminates the Basic Skills Test for Teacher Candidates. Under the new law, P.L.2023, c.180, a teacher candidate who doesn’t take the Praxis test can receive an alternate teaching certificate and then, after four years of continuous employment as a teacher, receive a standard teaching certificate. This bill is another small, but important step toward helping to alleviate the educator shortage by eliminating a potential financial barrier to entry into the field. The law goes into effect immediately and sunsets in five years. Also on Monday, the Senate Education Committee met and advanced several bills, two of which are also aimed at addressing educator shortages, as well as the bill that would require completion of the FAFSA as a condition of high school graduation. Read more about these and the other bills that saw action during the first week of lame duck.
A bill that requires State Board of Education to authorize alternate route to expedite teacher certification of persons employed as paraprofessionals in school districts
S-3883/A-5416 would require the State Board of Education to authorize an alternate route to expedite the teacher certification of persons who are employed or have been employed by a school district as a paraprofessional or an instructional assistant. The bill requires the Commissioner of Education to develop recommendations for the alternate route and those recommendations are required to be submitted to the State board. Under the provisions of the bill, in developing the recommendations, the commissioner is to consult with representatives of the education community, including the New Jersey Education Association, the New Jersey School Boards Association, the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, the New Jersey Public Charter Schools Association, and the State Professional Learning Committee. Also, as amended, the bill provides that in addition to any other requirements established by the State Board of Education, the alternate route program is required to include:
(1) a formula for applying a candidate’s direct classroom service to any student teaching requirements, provided that the candidate is currently employed by a school district and is providing direct classroom service, including tutoring. Under the formula, the direct classroom service is to earn the candidate full credit, if appropriate;
(2) a requirement that the school district in which the candidate is currently employed make every reasonable effort to permit the candidate to perform any required student teaching in the school district while, if possible, continuing employment as a paraprofessional or an instructional assistant; and
(3) a formula to allow a grade point average waiver for candidates who otherwise demonstrate qualification for the expedited teacher certification.
NJPSA Amendments: NJPSA along with other education stakeholders was able to secure important amendments to change a requirement that the school district permit the candidate to perform any required student teaching in the school district where the candidate is currently employed to a requirement instead that the district make every reasonable effort to permit the candidate to perform any required student teaching in the school district where the candidate is currently employed. The Senate Education Committee unanimously advanced this bill on Monday. NJPSA supports this bill, as amended.
A bill that establishes the New Jersey Student Teacher Scholarship Program
S-3886/A-5420 establishes the New Jersey Student Teacher Scholarship Program in the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority to help reduce some of the financial barriers to teacher certification. As amended by the committee, the program is to provide scholarships to students completing required clinical practice through a certificate of eligibility with an advanced standing educator preparation program at an institution of higher education in the State. A student is eligible to receive a scholarship of up to $7,200 for each semester of full-time clinical practice completed in a school in the State. To be eligible for a scholarship, an applicant is required to: be a resident of the State; be enrolled full-time in an approved program of study; and complete any steps required by the approved program of study to be eligible to apply for clinical practice. The Senate Education Committee unanimously advanced this bill on Monday. NJPSA supports this bill.
A bill that requires high school students to complete financial aid applications
S-2054/A-1181 as amended by the Committee, provides that, beginning with the 2023-2024 grade 11 class, and for two school years thereafter, a board of education or a board of trustees of a charter school will require a student, and the student’s parent or guardian, if applicable, to complete and submit a financial aid application in a form prescribed by the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) as a prerequisite to the student receiving a high school diploma unless a waiver is submitted to the school district or charter school. A student is exempt from the requirement if the student, or the student’s parent or guardian, submits to the school district or charter school a waiver form signed by the parent or guardian, or by the student if the student is at least 18 years of age, requesting the exemption from the requirement. If the student is under 18 years of age and a form signed by the parent or guardian cannot be reasonably obtained, the student’s school counselor may authorize the waiver as permitted by regulations promulgated by the State Board of Education. The bill directs the executive director of HESAA, in consultation with the Commissioner of Education, to provide resources for school districts, charter schools, parents, and students that include instructions on how to complete a financial aid application.. The resources are to include webinars, presentations, guidance documents, and a list of available State and federal resources. Under the bill, each school district will annually notify students and the parents or guardians of the requirement established by the bill. The amended bill also requires the executive director of the authority to prepare and issue a report to the Department of Education, as well as to the Legislature, that includes the number of students that completed a financial aid form, as well as the number of waivers submitted. NJPSA continues to express strong concerns about this bill and is working with the sponsors.
A bill that would permit students to be eligible for high school graduation credit for completing county fire academy course
As amended by the Committee, S-3901 would permit a student who successfully completes a course at a county fire academy to be eligible to receive credit toward meeting the high school graduation requirements for health, safety, and physical education if the student meets certain criteria. The student is required to: be between the ages of 16 and 18 years old; complete an examination, as applicable, to become a junior firefighter, or equivalent; and commit to volunteer at the fire department that serves the municipality in which the student resides for a period of two years.
NJPSA Amendments: NJPSA along with other education stakeholders was able to secure important amendments to clarify that a student is to be eligible to receive credit toward meeting the high school graduation requirements for health, safety, and physical education instead of requiring a school district to award credit for a student who successfully completes a course at a county fire academy, as well as to provide a reference to the State Board of Education’s regulation permitting the awarding of credit. The Senate Education Committee unanimously advanced this bill on Monday. NJPSA supports this bill, as amended.
A bill that provides gross income tax deduction to eligible educators and paraprofessionals for expense of classroom supplies
The Senate Education Committee also favorably reported S-1980/A-2227, a bill that would provide a gross income tax deduction to eligible educators and paraprofessionals employed by a New Jersey elementary or secondary school for certain expenses incurred by the educator or paraprofessional for classroom supplies during the taxable year. The Senate Education Committee unanimously advanced this bill on Monday. This bill has now been referred to, and is pending before, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. NJPSA supports this bill.
A bill that directs DOE to develop guidelines consistent with federal guidance concerning school discipline in school districts.
S-4037 requires the NJDOE to develop and distribute to school districts guidelines on school discipline. The purpose of the guidelines is to assist school districts in enhancing school climate and improving school discipline policies and practices, including ensuring that discipline practices are applied in an equitable and nondiscriminatory manner. The guidelines are to be consistent with the school discipline guidance package issued in January of 2014 by the United States Department of Education, in collaboration with the United States Department of Justice. The guidelines, at minimum, are specifically to (1) be consistent with the federal school discipline guidance package issued in January 2014 by the United States Department of Education and the United States Department of Justice, including the January 8, 2014 Dear Colleague Letter on the Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline, as well as the January 2014 document entitled “Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline”; (2) address any racial disparities or disproportionate impacts associated with current discipline practices, including the impact of race on the suspension or expulsion of students in grades kindergarten through 12; and (3) include best practices regarding improving school climate and creating positive and nondiscriminatory school discipline practices. The Senate Education Committee unanimously advanced this bill on Monday. NJPSA supports this bill.
A bill that urges incorporation of Sikhism instruction into social studies curriculum
SR-108 is a Senate resolution that urges the State Board of Education to require school districts to incorporate Sikhism instruction into the existing social studies curriculum and the Commission on Asian American Heritage to coordinate with local school officials to develop relevant course material. The Senate Education Committee unanimously advanced this bill on Monday. NJPSA is Neutral on this bill.
A bill that increases sending district representation on receiving district’s board of education in certain circumstances
As amended, S-3804 increases sending district representation on a receiving district’s board of education in certain circumstances. Under current law, a sending district is entitled to representation on a receiving district’s board of education when the sending district’s students comprise at least 10 percent of the total enrollment of the students in the grades of the receiving district. If two or more sending districts do not individually meet this percent threshold, but collectively comprise at least 15 percent of the total enrollment of the relevant grades of the receiving district, the sending districts are required to collectively have two representatives on the receiving district’s board of education. The Senate Education Committee unanimously advanced this bill on Monday. NJPSA is Neutral on this bill.
Bills that were “Discussed” but no vote was taken:
S-2158 Provides that in certain cases vacancy in membership of board of education of limited purpose regional school district will be filled by majority vote of board of education of constituent district represented by former board member. Chairman Gopal wanted to see what the feedback was on this bill and indicated that absent major opposition, the bill would be posted for a vote at the next meeting of the Senate Education Committee on December 14th. NJPSA is Neutral on this bill.
S-3884/A-5419 Removes obstacles to teacher certification for certain teachers. This bill is nearly identical to S-1553 that the Governor signed into law on the same day. NJPSA supports this bill but preferred S-1553, the version of the legislation that was signed into law.
Bills that were listed for a vote, but were ultimately “Held” by the Sponsors:
Two bills addressing a requirement that school districts provide excused absences for mental health reasons were originally posted for a vote, however, the sponsors agreed to hold the bills for now in order to work on issues raised by stakeholders. We do expect to see these bills on another agenda again soon. NJPSA remains concerned about carving out a statutory excused absence for mental health when the same does not exist for physical health. We continue to work with the Sponsors.
S-2151 Requires school districts to permit students five excused absences for mental or behavioral health reasons. (Held)
S-2414 Permits school districts to define excused absences from school to include illness based on student’s mental or behavioral health and requires the Commissioner of Education to develop guidelines for defining excused absence for this reason. (Held)
Next week, the Legislature will undertake another sizeable batch of bills. Among them will be A-4496, a bill that would provide various changes to the laws governing the construction of school facilities projects and the operations of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority (SDA). Be sure to check back next Friday for all of the week’s action under the Golden Dome. Lame duck can be a very busy, and even, chaotic time. We promise to keep you informed all along the way! If you have any questions or would like more information about these, or any other, bills, please do not hesitate to reach out to your NJPSA Government Relations team. Thank you for your advocacy, your support, and for all that you do!