Even though nothing seems normal about the world right now, one wouldn’t know it by looking at the legislative calendar. The legislature has been actively meeting remotely and is moving a flurry of legislation (reflected in the length of our update this week). We have also heard that members are being summoned to return to the golden dome, and could be meeting in person as soon as Monday! Here is what happened this week in the NJ Legislature.
Budget – Extension
Both the Assembly Budget Committee and the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee met this week to consider legislation to appropriate funds for the three-month extended budget for Fiscal Year -20. The bills, S-20/A-3, are over one hundred pages in length, and some legislators raised concerns about only having a matter of hours to review them before being asked to cast their vote. The bills amend and supplement the FY2020 appropriations act to effectuate the extension of the fiscal year (which would normally end on June 30th, 2020) though September 30, 2020. The bill makes FY 2020 supplemental appropriations totaling $114,006,000 to take effect prior to the end of June 2020, and also makes supplemental appropriations totaling $7,631,991,000 in State funds and $4,586,243,000 in federal funds for the months of July, August, and September 2020. The bills also provide for the deappropriation of a list of amounts unexpended (over 1.1 Billion dollars) to take effect within five days unless the Joint Budget Oversight Committee (JBOC) rejects the list. New Jersey was the only state that had to do a supplemental budget. The Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Senator Sarlo, noted that this three month budget highlights the severity of how the pandemic impacted our state and its fiscal health. The bills passed out their respective committees on a strict party line vote with the Democrats voting to release the bills, and the Republicans voting against the bills. They are scheduled to be voted on by the full Senate and General Assembly early next week. We anticipate that the bills will pass both Houses and advance to the Governor for his signature.
The Assembly Health Committee met on Tuesday, June 23rd. On their agenda was A-970, a bill that would require public schools to administer written screenings for depression annually for students in grades 7 through 12. The screening shall be proctored and conducted electronically via a computer and shall utilize a screening tool that has been validated to screen depression in adolescents, as determined by the Commissioners of Education and Children and Families. The Commissioner of Children and Families shall select one electronic screening tool to be utilized by all school districts. The screenings shall be conducted in a manner that accommodates students with developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities, or low reading proficiency, and that ensures the privacy of the student during the screening process and the confidentiality of the results consistent with State and federal laws applicable to the confidentiality of student records. The screenings shall be conducted in a manner that permits real time evaluation of the screening results and same day intervention by a licensed mental health professional as indicated by such screening. The Department of Education and the Department of Children and Families shall jointly establish standards on the procedures to be implemented to conduct the screenings for depression and may provide for other screening tools, including, but not limited to, screening tools for anxiety, substance use disorder, and suicidal ideation and behavior, as determined by the Commissioners of Education and Children and Families. The Commissioners of Education and Children and Families shall make recommendations for conducting screenings in a manner that accommodates students with developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities, or low reading proficiency. A superintendent, or the superintendent’s designee, shall notify the parent or guardian of a student whose screening for depression detects an abnormality and advise the parent or guardian to seek the care of a health care professional in order to obtain further evaluation and diagnosis. Prior to screening a student for depression pursuant to this section, a school district shall obtain written consent from the student’s parent or guardian upon enrollment and at the start of each successive school year. NJPSA testified with significant concerns, and asked for a number of amendments. We were successful in getting one of our suggested amendments incorporated into the bill (adding “superintendent’s designee” to the person or persons in charge of parental notification should the results of the screen indicate a need for further diagnosis or evaluation), and Chairman Conaway was receptive to at least one other (only conducting screenings if schools are operating on an in-person basis, and never remotely). Our entire testimony and recommendations for amendments can be read here. We maintain significant concerns and look forward to continuing to work with the legislature on this bill.
The Senate Education Committee met on Thursday June 25th, advancing several bills on NJPSA’s Watchlist:
- S-699 Under current law, members of the panel of arbitrators maintained by the Commissioner of Education are required to receive training on conduct unbecoming an employee, including, but not limited to, issues related to allegations of sexual assault and child abuse, for the purpose of assisting the arbitrator in determining matters in which conduct unbecoming an employee is the basis of the tenure charges made against the employee. This bill would require that the training also include issues related to cultural diversity and bias. NJPSA supported this bill.
- S-1512 requires the Department of Education to develop and maintain a list of textbook vendors that incorporate inclusive material in their textbooks and to distribute the list to school districts and make the list publicly available on the department’s website. “Inclusive material” as defined in the bill means content in a textbook that accurately portrays the diversity of our society, in such areas as gender, race, ethnicity, disability, gender identity or expression, and sexual orientation. Under the bill, when a school district determines to acquire a new textbook, the district will be required to select the textbook from a vendor that is included on the department’s list. Notwithstanding, the bill allows a school district to propose to the Commissioner of Education a textbook vendor that is not currently on the department’s list and to acquire and use textbooks from that vendor upon the approval of the commissioner. The requirements of the bill would not apply to textbooks acquired by a school district using the Statewide textbook bank created pursuant to current law, or to textbooks that require replacement due to damage or loss. NJPSA expressed concern with this bill and submitted recommendations that use of the list of these textbook vendors be recommended, but not mandatory. Read our statement to the Committee here.
- S-2486 would create a 5 year pilot program in the Department of Education to expand the “Clayton Model” Program to 10 public schools in each of three counties (Gloucester, either Morris or Sussex and either Middlesex or Ocean). The “Clayton Model” was developed in the Clayton School District in Gloucester County. A trauma-informed intervention program used to promote student development and success, this Model has been shown to significantly improve students’ social and emotional health, academic performance, and caregivers’ supports. The Senator Walter Rand Institute will be responsible for developing and implementing a comprehensive evaluation of the pilot program, including a cost-benefit analysis and will issue a report and recommendation as to the feasibility of the program’s continuation and expansion to additional public schools in the State. NJPSA was supportive of this legislation.
- S-2507 Under current law, a board of education is prohibited from using its capital reserve account for current expenses of the general fund. Under this bill, when a school district is required to close the schools of the district for more than three consecutive school days because of a declared public health emergency, state of emergency, or directive by the appropriate health agency or officer to institute a public health related closure, the district may use the funds in its capital reserve account for: current expenses related to the declared public health emergency, state of emergency, or directive; and for expenses incurred in connection with the transition to and use of virtual or remote instruction. The bill was drafted as to be retroactive to March 18, 2020, the date on which the Governor required that schools be closed under Executive Order 104 of 2020 issued in response to the coronavirus disease 2019. NJPSA supported this bill.
- S-2540 This bill establishes a Co-Curricular Activity Emergency Grant Program in the Department of Education to support the continued operations of certain academic-related, co-curricular activities that are offered to students by public schools. The bill would permit any school district, charter school, or renaissance school to apply to the Department of Education for a co-curricular activity emergency grant. Each grant would be dedicated to supporting the operations of one or more co-curricular activities that are offered to students who attend the recipient school. When submitting an application, the school district, charter school, or renaissance school would be required to designate the co-curricular activities to which grant funding would be dedicated. Under the bill, each grant would be awarded in an amount determined by the Commissioner of Education. When awarding grants, the commissioner may give preference to applicants that experienced the largest reduction in revenues due to the outbreak of COVID-19, or dedicate funding to specific co-curricular activities. The bill also appropriates $750,000 from the General Fund to support the operations of the grant program. NJPSA strongly supported this bill. Our statement shared with the Senate Education Committee can be found here.
- S-2558 As amended, this bill provides that individuals attending school-sponsored graduation exercises between July 1, 2020 and August 31, 2020, who have graduated from the school or were employed by the school in the immediately preceding school year will, for purposes of any insurance coverages afforded the school’s registered and enrolled student population beginning July 1, 2020 or for the purposes of any insurance coverages afforded the school’s employees beginning on that date, be considered included in the enrolled and registered student population or be considered as a school employee, as applicable, while attending the graduation exercises. At NJPSA’s request, the committee amended the bill to extend the insurance coverage provided under the bill to graduation exercises that are held by August 31, 2020. The bill in its original form only extended the insurance coverage to graduation exercises held between July 1, 2020 and July 31, 2020. The amendments also extend the insurance coverage under the bill to school employees attending graduation exercises between these dates. This bill was second-referenced to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, where it was unanimously released on Friday, June 26th. It now goes to the full Senate for a vote. NJPSA supported this bill, as amended.
- S-2573 establishes the position of State School Nurse Consultant in the Department of Education. Under the bill, the State School Nurse Consultant would work with school districts and school nurses to facilitate best practices in school nursing by advancing comprehensive school health services to address the health and wellness of all students throughout the State. The bill requires the Commissioner of Education to appoint the State School Nurse Consultant. The person appointed to the position is required to be a New Jersey certified school nurse who holds a master’s degree and has demonstrated higher-level leadership with recent school nursing experience. Once appointed, the State School Nurse Consultant would be required to collaborate with the Department of Health (DOH), other State agencies, and associated stakeholders in executing the duties of the position. The bill requires the person to be a New Jersey certified school nurse who holds a master’s degree and has demonstrated higher-level leadership with recent school nursing experience. NJPSA applauded the introduction of this long overdue legislation. The statement we shared with the Senate Education Committee can be read here.
- S-2603 is intended to address the barriers to remote learning that many students are experiencing (commonly known as the “digital divide”), so that all students may fully participate in the virtual classroom experience. This bill would require the Commissioner of Education to distribute to school districts, charter schools, and renaissance schools, within 30 days of the bill’s effective date, the amount of funding necessary for the acquisition of connected devices for all enrolled students who do not have access to such devices. The bill defines a “connected device” as a laptop computer, tablet computer, or similar device that is capable of connecting to broadband Internet access service, either by receiving such service directly or through the use of Wi-Fi. The bill includes a provision requiring a school district, charter school, or renaissance school that receives funding under the bill’s provisions to reimburse the Department of Education for that funding from any moneys received under the federal “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act,” Pub.L. 116-136, or any other federal assistance available to address the impact of COVID-19 on schools. NJPSA expressed strong support for this bill. The statement we submitted to the Senate Education Committee may be accessed here.
- S-2162 requires each public school, and each nonpublic school which receives federal funds and is subject to the requirements of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to post on its website in an easily accessible location the following information: the rights afforded to a student and the responsibilities of the school under Title IX; the name and contact information of the Title IX coordinator for the school, including the Title IX coordinator’s phone number and e-mail address; and the procedure to file a complaint under Title IX. The bill also requires the Commissioner of Education to annually disseminate through electronic means a letter to each public school, and to each nonpublic school which receives federal funds and is subject to the requirements of Title IX, informing the school of the rights afforded to a student and the responsibilities of the school under Title IX.
At their meeting on Friday morning, June 26th, the Assembly Appropriations Committee considered and unanimously approved legislation (A-20) designed to provide Chapter 78 relief for public education employees in New Jersey. This bill requires the School Employees’ Health Benefits Program (SEHBP) to offer only three plans, beginning on July 1, 2020, for medical and prescription benefits coverage. The three plans will be the New Jersey Educators Health Plan; the SEHBP NJ Direct 10 plan as adopted and implemented by the School Employees’ Health Benefits Commission for plan year 2020; and the SEHBP NJ Direct 15 plan as adopted and implemented by the School Employees’ Health Benefits Commission for plan year 2020. The bill was previously passed by the full Senate (34-0) on March 19, 2020. A different version of this bill was previously passed by the full Senate (34-0) on March 19, 2020. A-20 is scheduled to be considered by the General Assembly on Monday, June 29, 2020.
Also considered and advanced by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Friday:
- A-631/S-993 This bill provides to non-teaching employees of local, county or regional school districts, boards or commissions the right to submit to binding arbitration any dispute regarding whether there is just cause for a disciplinary action, including, but not limited to, reprimands, withholding of increments, termination, non-renewal, expiration or lapse of an employment contract or term, or lack of continuation of employment, irrespective of the reason for the employer’s action or failure to act, and irrespective of any contractual or negotiated provision or lack thereof. The bill places the burden of proof in the arbitration on the employer. This bill has already been passed by the full Senate (32-2) on March 19, 2020. It now goes to the General Assembly for a vote by the full House.
- A-4140/S-2303 This bill prohibits an employer from entering into a subcontracting agreement which may affect the employment of any employees in a collective bargaining unit under any circumstances during the term of an existing collective bargaining agreement covering the employees. The bill defines “employer” as any local or regional school district, educational services commission, jointure commission, county special services school district, county college, or board or commission under the authority of the Commissioner of Education or the State Board of Education. This bill has already been passed by the full Senate (32-2) on March 19, 2020. It now goes to the General Assembly for a vote by the full House.
Signed Into Law by the Governor
On Friday, June 26th, Governor Murphy signed S-2383/A-4142 into law. S-2383/A-4142 establishes a three-year “Bridge Year Pilot Program” for certain students who were impacted by the public health state of emergency caused by coronavirus disease 2019. Specifically, the legislation directs the Commissioner of Education to establish a three-year “Bridge Year Pilot Program” allowing students to defer graduation and remain enrolled in high school while taking a certain number of college credits with non-matriculated status. During this year, students would be able to participate, under certain conditions, in extracurricular activities offered by their host high school and in spring sports as permitted by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association. This bill was passed unanimously by the full Senate in May. The vote was not as unanimous in the lower house, with the General Assembly voting 56 in the affirmative, 17 in the negative, and 5 members abstaining. NJPSA submitted testimony expressing concerns about the legislation which include the: potential fiscal impact of this program, staffing concerns as a bridge year liaison is required in the high school, the perpetuation of unfairness and lost opportunities through the displacement of younger students in high school sports and extracurricular activities, the physical and emotional differences that would be evident between the younger and bridge year students (must be age 18 or 19 only), Code of conduct and the application of all school rules to the bridge year student, and Insurance concerns.
Your NJPSA Government Relations team will continue to track, monitor and weigh in on all of the bills that impact you, your students, staff and buildings. If you have any questions about any of the bills considered this week, or any others, please do not hesitate to contact Director of Government Relations Debbie Bradley @ firstname.lastname@example.org and/or Assistant Director of Government Relations Jennie Lamon @ email@example.com at any time. Please stay safe and healthy!