Legislative Wrap Up Week of January 25, 2021
Several education-related bills advanced this week as the NJ State Senate convened for a Voting Session and the General Assembly Education Committee held a hearing. NJPSA’s Director of Government Relations Debra Bradley Esq. along with Immediate Past-President Karen Bingert provided testimony on a bill that would require a learning loss report.
NJ General Assembly
The Assembly Education Committee met virtually on Monday, January 25th. Their agenda included a broad range of topics including staffing shortages, SEL and accessibility standards for internet websites. The Committee also advanced a bill to require the New Jersey Department of Education to prepare two reports on learning loss and the overall impact of COVID-19 on public schools.
As currently drafted, A-5126 would require the Commissioner of Education to prepare two reports on the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on public schooling. The first report will be a learning loss report that identifies and quantifies the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on student academic outcomes. The second report will be a report on the continuation of school services during the same period. Under the bill, the commissioner would have to collect data on student academic outcomes from all school districts within 30 days of the bill’s effective date. The learning loss report must identify and quantify the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on overall student academic outcomes, and include an analysis disaggregated by district size, grade level, and academic subject, and identify and quantify the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on student achievement disparities that existed prior to the public health emergency, and include an analysis of student academic outcomes disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, eligibility for free or reduced price lunch under the National School Lunch Program, eligibility for special education services, and English language learner designation.
NJPSA’s Director of Government Relations, Debra Bradley, Esq. as well as NJPSA’s immediate past president, Karen Bingert, were in attendance to share the perspective of the school community on A-5126. Hillsborough High School principal Karen Bingert provided impassioned testimony explaining that even though every educator understands and respects the need for valid and reliable data, and assuring Committee Members that the time will come when those learning gaps will be exposed through intentional formative assessment, broad-based reteaching, and as-needed interventions, this bill fails to recognize that each district has chosen to tackle this in its own way. Furthermore, the data points and tight timelines in the bill would put undue stress on already strained school districts and staff. Speaking from the heart, and with a true “boots on the ground” perspective, Bingert implored the Committee: “Let’s not spend valuable time right now trying to quantify the vastly different learning experiences in each of our classes, schools, and districts — especially since the subjective ways in which districts are responding to this crisis can only result in additionally subjective reports of learning loss that are unlikely to reveal the insights you seek at this time. Instead, let’s allow our teachers, supervisors, and administrators to use that time and energy to support our students.”
Moved by the testimony provided by NJPSA, Principal Bingert, as well as representatives from some other educational organizations, the Committee expressed concerns about the bill and signaled a willingness to work on alternative language.
The Committee also advanced the following measures on Monday:
- A-4264/S-2486 Establishes Clayton Model Pilot Program in DOE to provide school-based social emotional learning to students in grades kindergarten through five at certain public schools. Building on a social emotional learning model developed by the Clayton school district in Gloucester County, this legislation would create a five-year pilot program to expand the Clayton model to schools across New Jersey.
The Clayton initiative used two strategies aimed to foster students’ socio-emotional development: The first focused on the processing, integration and selective application of social and emotional skills, while the second centered on creating safe and caring learning environments by integrating peer and family activities, improving classroom management and teaching practices and organizing school-wide community-building activities.
The pilot program established under the measure would implement those strategies in a maximum of ten public schools from representative counties in northern and central New Jersey, as well as Gloucester County in the south. The program would be provided to students in kindergarten through fifth grades. NJPSA supported this bill.
- A-4783 Aiming to address shortages of qualified teachers amid the COVID-19 pandemic, legislation this bill would establish a five-year pilot program that would create a path for eligible out-of-state educators to teach in New Jersey. Under the Alternate Route Interstate Reciprocity Pilot Program created by the New Jersey Department of Education, selected educator preparation programs in the state – which distribute Certificates of Eligibility, the credential needed for teachers to seek employment in New Jersey schools – would accept out-of-state candidates who meet all requirements as well as their earned credits from other programs. Additionally, the State Board of Examiners would issue certificates of eligibility to out-of-state teachers who meet certain criteria, such as earning equivalent credentials from another program.
- A-4856 As amended, this bill establishes accessibility standards for the Internet websites and web services of public school districts. Specifically, the bill requires the Internet website and web services of every public school to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA, or the most up-to-date version of the guidelines. The WCAG guidelines provide standards through which digital content may be accessible for persons with disabilities. In June 2018, the WCAG 2.1 guidelines were issued to improve accessibility guidance for three major groups: users with cognitive or learning disabilities, users with low vision, and users with disabilities on mobile devices.
Under the bill, the Commissioner of Education would be required to establish a procedure for determining whether an Internet website or web service complies with the WCAG guidelines. The Office of Information Technology in the Department of Education would be responsible for issuing certifications of compliance to attest that an Internet website or web service complies with these requirements.
The bill provides that when a public school establishes or significantly improves an Internet website or web service after the effective date of this bill, the school would be required to receive a certification of compliance from the office before the website may be considered operational. The bill also requires the office to recertify the compliance of each Internet website or web service operated by a public school every two years following initial certification.
- A-5147 Finally, in an effort to help school districts address gaps in learning spurred by months of school closures and remote instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Assembly Education Committee on Monday approved legislation to establish a grant program to provide funds to schools to create or expand learning and support programs this summer and during the next school year. All school districts, charter schools and renaissance schools would be eligible to apply for the program. Schools would provide a description of initiatives to be created or expanded and how they will address learning loss, among other information. The Commissioner of the NJDOE would be required to give priority to entities that have not established a summer learning program for this upcoming summer, and have a student population in which 20 percent or more of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program. The grant program would be funded through federal assistance provided to New Jersey to address the impact of COVID-19 on elementary and secondary schools, with any additional needed funding being provided through the State. The legislation now goes to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration. NJPSA supported this bill.
NJ State Senate
The New Jersey State Senate met for a Voting Session on Thursday, January 28, 2021. Among the bills advanced by the Senate on Thursday were:
- S-854 Under this bill, designated “Laura Wootens’s Law”, each board of education must provide a middle school civics course beginning in the 2022-2023 school year. The new civics course must address the principles underlying the American system of democracy, the function and limitations of government, and the role of a citizen in a democratic society. The bill also authorizes the NJ Center for Civic Education to provide curricula, professional development, and technical assistance for middle and high school civics. The bill is named in honor of Mrs. Laura Wooten, a New Jerseyan who contributed a lifetime of civic service.
NJPSA testified in opposition to a separate mandated civics requirement since civics is fully integrated throughout the social studies curriculum in the middle school grade levels. Additionally, we submitted that the bill is premature, as New Jersey has just revamped its Social Studies standards. This bill was passed by the Senate 33-0. This bill has not yet moved in the General Assembly.
- S-550. This legislation requires public schools that include grades seven through twelve, and higher education institutions, such as colleges and universities, to print the telephone number for a suicide prevention hotline on the back of every student ID card. According to a September 2020 report released by the CDC, the rate of suicide among individuals aged 10 to 24 in the United States increased nearly 60% between 2007 and 2018. This bill was passed by the Senate 33-0. This bill is on 2nd Reading in the General Assembly.
- S-1018 This bill establishes a task force to examine, evaluate, and make recommendations regarding discipline policies and practices in New Jersey public schools, including any racial disparities in the implementation of those policies and the effectiveness of the policies.
The task force will include: One member will be appointed by the Commissioner of Education or a designee. Seven members will be appointed by the Governor, who will include: one member upon the recommendation of the New Jersey School Boards Association; one member upon the recommendation of the New Jersey Education Association; one member upon the recommendation of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association; one member upon the recommendation of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators; one member upon the recommendation of the American Federation of Teachers New Jersey; one member upon the recommendation of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association; one member of the public who has specialized knowledge or expertise in issues related to school discipline practices, and the Director of the Division on Civil Rights in the Department of Law and Public Safety to the membership of the task force created by the bill’s provisions.
The task force will study, evaluate, and make recommendations regarding school discipline policies and practices in New Jersey and is required to issue a final report of its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature within 12 months of its organization.
This bill was passed by the Senate 31-0. It has not yet moved in the General Assembly.
- S-1020 This bill requires school report cards under the School Report Card Program administered by the Commissioner of Education, to include information on the number, percentage, and demographics, including race, gender, disability, grade level, and eligibility for free or reduced price lunch under the National School Lunch Program, of students who received one or more suspensions or expulsions or who were reported to or arrested by law enforcement, by category of offense pursuant to the provisions of the Uniform State Memorandum of Agreement Between Education and Law Enforcement Officials. The bill further requires the Commissioner of Education to compile data received from each school district into a Statewide database that must be posted on the Department’s website. The database must, at a minimum, include school level totals for each category of student disciplinary actions, including in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, referrals to law enforcement, and arrests, as well as demographic information of the students who received the disciplinary action. This bill was passed by the Senate 32-0. It is on Second Reading in the General Assembly.
Until Next Week
If you have any questions or would like more information about any of the bills that advanced this week, or any other items under consideration by the New Jersey Legislature, please do not hesitate to reach out to your NJPSA Government Relations Team at any time. Director Debra Bradley Esq. at firstname.lastname@example.org or Assistant DIrector Jennie Lamon @ email@example.com. Please stay safe and healthy (and, according to the forecast, please stay warm!). Thank you for all that you do.