Senate Ed Committee Approves Legislation Establishing School Funding Commission & School Security Package at ‘Back to School’ Session

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The Senate Education Committee took testimony on several pieces of legislation affecting students and schools September 12.  Among the legislation approved was a concurrent resolution to establish a School Funding Commission with ‘BRACC-like’ authority as to changes to the current school funding formula.  Also approved was a legislative package of bills focused on school security enhancements.  The committee also approved a measure related to pre-service clinical experiences for all aspiring teachers as well as enhanced training for teachers of the handicapped.  In addition, the body looked favorably upon legislation encouraging school districts to embrace a program out of California that encourages students to find their ‘Natural High” as well as a bill that has circulated the Legislature for a number of years that would require full certificated health and physical education teachers in K-6, with grandfathering for existing educators.

School Funding Commission

Possibly the biggest news coming out of Monday’s committee was a concurrent resolution, SCR-119 (Sweeney / Ruiz), which would establish a State School Aid Funding Fairness Commission.  The process envisioned under the bill, which circumvents the Governor by use of resolution rather than legislative bill passage process, cleared its first hurdle when the Senate Education Committee approved the resolution along party lines.

Specifically, the resolution creates a six-member commission to provide a comprehensive recommendation on how to revise the state education aid formula to the Legislature.  The Legislature, akin to what happens under a Base Realignment and Closure Commission or ‘BRACC’ process, would then solely have an opportunity to approve or not approve the proposal’s recommended changes, not make changes.

Earlier this year, Senate President Sweeney floated a similar plan which called for a four-member commission made up of two appointees by the governor and one each by himself and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson). The Governor was not in agreement with the process, instead canvassing the state selling the idea of what he calls “fairness funding” – a flat $6,599 per student for each school district.

Opponents of the Goveror’s plan do not believe Christie’s plan has any chance to move forward. First, it treats all districts — large multiple-school districts with high schools and middle schools, as well as single-school elementary districts — the same. Second, some urban districts — such as Newark, Paterson, and Camden — will see budget cuts of about 70 percent. Third, it is unlikely to meet the approval of the state Supreme Court.

Now, the Senate President has come forward with a new process that cuts the Governor out entirely. The new commission created under the resolution approved Monday would be made up of six members — Sweeney and Prieto would each get an appointment, as would two ‘educational organizations.’  In addition, each Republican minority leader would also get one appointee.

As with the other proposed commission, this body would be asked to come up with recommended changes to the funding formula with the assumption that they would be working with an additional $100 million a year in funding over five years.  The body would be required to consider:

  • the impact of the adjustment aid and State aid growth limit provisions of the “School Funding Reform Act of 2008” (SFRA), P.L.2007, c.260 (C.18A:7F-43 et al.), on the fairness of the school funding formula, to make recommendations for revising those provisions in order to provide full funding of the “School Funding Reform Act of 2008” over a five-year period, and to bring fair and equitable funding to all school districts for enrollment growth over a multi-year period;
  • the tax levy growth limitation as established and calculated pursuant to section 3 of P.L.2007, c.62 (C.18A:7F-38) and its impact on the ability of school districts to adequately fund operating expenses;
  • the per pupil administrative costs limit as established pursuant to paragraphs (1) and (2) of subsection c. of section 5 of P.L.1996, c.138 (C.18A:7F-5) and the impact of the limit on school district staffing and operations;
  • the equalized valuation and income measures used to determine a school district’s local share of its adequacy budget as calculated pursuant to section 10 of P.L.2007, c.260 (C.18A:7F-52), and the impact of property tax abatements on that local share; and
  • the ability of a school district that is at or above its adequacy budget to lower its school tax levy in the event that additional State aid is provided under proposed legislation to implement the committee’s recommendations.

NJPSA, as well as NJASA, NJSBA, and Garden State Coalition of Schools support the proposal’s process but have reserved judgment as to approval of the eventual plan that comes out of the work of the Commission.  In committee we urged the sponsors to guarantee additional funding be available to support any changes but expressed support of the inclusion of education stakeholders as well as the requirement that all commission members have school funding and state budgetary experience.   NJEA does not support the measure, voicing concerns about the illusory nature of the $100 million in additional revenue outlined within Sweeney’s proposal, as well as concerns around the BRACC process outlined under the bill.  We will keep you posted as the proposal moves forward.


School Security Package

Also approved was a package of bills related to school security.  These include:

 S-2313 / A-191 (Rice / Ruiz / Caputo / Diegnan / Spencer) – Requires school buildings to be equipped with emergency light and panic alarm linked to local law enforcement.

Requires school buildings to be equipped with emergency light and panic alarm linked to law enforcement and provides state funding to districts through the proceeds of bonds authorized by the School Development Authority.

S-2438 / A-3349 (Diegnan / Addiego / Diegnan / Wolfe / Holley) – Requires annual school security training for school employees to be conducted collaboratively with emergency responders; requires law enforcement officer to annually attend at least one school security drill.

This legislation makes certain positive changes to school security training requirements and school security drills.  Specifically,  the bill states that an actual fire or school security emergency that occurs at a school during a month which includes activities equivalent to a school security or fire drill can count as meeting the school fire or security drill required under current law.  The bill also provides, reflective of current practice, that a law enforcement officer shal be present at a minimum of one school security drill during a school year in order to provide law enforcement recommendations on potential improvements to the school security drill procedures.  The bill also expands the definition of a school security to include a bomb threat along with non-fire evacuations, lockdowns, or active shooter situations.  Finally, the bill provides that all full-time employees of a district, not only certificated employees shall receive training on school safety and security, including instruction on school security drills.  This training shall be conducted collaboratively by the district and emergency responders, including law enforceme33nt, fire and emergency medical services.  If enacted, this bill would go into effect in the first full school year following the date of enactment.

S-2439 / A-3348 (Diegnan / Addiego / Diegnan / Wolfe / Holley) – Requires certain school security measures to be incorporated in architectural design of new school construction and certain school security measures for existing buildings.

This legislation requires that certain detailed school security measures be incorporated into the architectural design of new school construction and in the updating of existing buildings where possible.  The bill was amended at NJPSA suggestion to provide flexibility as new best practice components in school security are developed in the future.

A-209 (DeAngelo) – Excludes certain increases in school security expenditures from the tax levy cap applicable to school districts.

Under current law, school districts may increase their tax levies, with certain exceptions, by no more than two percent relative to the prior budget year.  This bill provides that any annual increase in expenditures on school security costs in excess of two percent incurred by a school district will be excluded from the limit.

A-191 (Caputo / Diegnan / Spencer) – Requires school buildings to be equipped with emergency light and panic alarm linked to local law enforcement.

Requires school buildings to be equipped with emergency light and panic alarm linked to law enforcement and provides state funding to districts through the proceeds of bonds authorized by the School Development Authority.

NJPSA supports the bills within the package (NJPSA Testimony)


K-6 Health & Physical Education

Additionally the Committee approved legislation, S-2323 (Turner), requiring teachers of health and physical education in grades kindergarten through six in public schools to possess appropriate endorsement to instructional certificate.


Under existing State Board of Education regulations, in order to teach health and physical education, physical education, or health in grades kindergarten through six in a public school, a teacher is not required to have these specific endorsements to the instructional certificate. A teacher with an elementary school endorsement, pursuant to certain regulations, would be permitted to teach these courses.  This bill requires that teachers appointed to teach health, health and physical education, or physical education in grades kindergarten through six possess the appropriate endorsement to their instructional certificate.

However, the bill exempts from the bill’s certification requirements persons who teach former Abbott district kindergarten students under a contract between the former Abbott district and a licensed child care center or other provider. The bill also includes a “grandfather” provision that will allow teachers who received an elementary school endorsement prior to the bill’s effective date, to continue to be permitted to teach health and physical education, physical education, or health at these grade level.  NJPSA sought the liberal grandfather provision in previous session and sought the establishment of a limited waiver via the Executive County Superintendent.  The Association will continue to work with the sponsors on the legislation. 

This legislation reached the Governor’s desk last session only to be conditionally vetoed.   It is unclear what future path the legislation will take.  NJPSA will keep you posted if/when the bill moves forward.


Pre-service Special Education Experience

Also approved was legislation, S-1474 (Ruiz), which requires teacher preparation program for instructional certificate to include certain amount of instruction or clinical experience in special education and for students with disabilities endorsement to include credit hours in autism spectrum disorder.

Specifically, the bill provides that, in addition to any other requirements adopted by the State Board of Education for teacher preparation programs, the State board must require that the preparation program for an instructional certificate include a minimum of the equivalent of 6 semester credit hours of classroom instruction, clinical experience, including student internships, or a combination thereof, in special education.  The bill also requires that the preparation program for an instructional certificate with a teacher of students with disabilities endorsement include credit hours in autism spectrum disorder and evidence-based instructional practices to address the educational needs of students with autism.

NJPSA, in addition to NJEA, worked last session to more directly reflect current practice in teacher prepatory programs.  The Association also worked with the sponsor to ensure that all special education aspiring teachers receive pre-service training on autism, rather than create a new separate endorsement in autism.


Natural High Program

In addition, the Committee approved legislation, S-1010 (Holzapfel), which directs the Commissioner of Education to encourage districts to implement Natural High Drug Prevention Program in school districts.

Specifically, as amended, this bill directs the Commissioner of Education to work with the national nonprofit organization Natural High to encourage the implementation of the Natural High Drug Prevention Program in each school district.  The program will include, but is not limited to, use of Natural High videos and research-based curricula, training for State educators on the Natural High program, program assessments, support to activate Natural High clubs at middle schools and high schools in the State, and participation of a State educator on the Natural High Leadership Council to provide State-specific input on the program.

Under the bill, the curriculum for the Natural High Drug Prevention Program implemented in the State’s school districts will include information on:

1) identifying and engaging in positive activities or passions, referred to as natural highs;

2) the benefits of engaging in natural highs and the consequences of drug use;

3) setting goals and reaching one’s full potential;

4) peer pressure, refusal strategies, and influencing peers to adopt a drug-free lifestyle;

5) identifying positive role models;

6) basing choices on positive personal values; and

7) discerning true and false messages about drug use and a drug-free lifestyle. These topics are key components of the research-based curriculum developed by Natural High.

NJPSA worked extensively with the bill sponsor create flexibility around the bill.  The committee amended the bill to provide that the commissioner will encourage the implementation of the Natural High program in each school district.  The bill in its original form required the commissioner to implement the program in each district. The committee also amended the bill to provide that the program will include support to activate Natural High clubs at both the middle and high school levels, rather than in high schools only.  Both changes came at the Association’s recommendation.  


Homeless Students

In addition, the committee approved legislation, S-2396 (Ruiz), which requires the State to pay educational costs of students who reside in homeless shelter outside district of residence for more than one year.

Pursuant to P.L.2012, c.80, the State is required to pay the educational costs of any student who resides for more than one year in a domestic violence shelter or transitional living facility located outside the student’s district of residence.  This legislation would require that, in addition, the State will pay the educational costs of a student who resides for more than one year in a homeless shelter located outside the student’s district of residence.

A series of administrative law decisions have ruled that if a homeless family continues to reside in a particular school district for more than one year, then the family is considered to be domiciled in that district, and the district becomes responsible for the costs of the child’s education.  This bill will avoid concentrating the educational costs of students who live in homeless shelters for an extended period of time on the communities in which the shelters are located.

NJPSA supports the legislation.


Other Legislation

Finally, the body approved a resolution, SR-66 (Whelan/Turner), urging the President to establish a Presidential Youth Council and a joint resolution, SJR-40 (Ruiz), designating the second Friday of December of each year as “Paraprofessional and School-Related Personnel (PSRPs) in Our Schools Day” in New Jersey to recognize the contributions of paraprofessionals and school-related personnel.