State House Wrap Up – Week of Jan 2, 2024

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Happy New Year! The Lame Duck pandemonium is winding down, as both Senate and Assembly committees held their final hearings this week.  Next week, both houses will meet for final voting sessions.  Any bill not on the Governor’s desk by then will “die” and would have to start the entire process over when the new Legislature convenes.  The end of Lame Duck also usually means a flurry of activity in the Governor’s office, as he will sign dozens of bills into law before they expire.  This week, Governor Murphy signed a bill requiring schools to provide instruction on grief into law as well as a bill allowing 17 year olds to vote in primary elections if they will turn 18 by the general election in November. The Educator Evaluation Reform bill had another hearing in the Assembly, and a bill providing a teacher certification route to Montessori trained teachers advanced out of committee to be considered by the full General Assembly. Read on for a wrap up of all education-related bills that saw action during the final full week of Lame Duck. 


An important point to consider as you look at this week’s action, are the bills that we were able to push the PAUSE button on.  NJPSA wishes to thank all members for your support in contacting your legislators to ask that A-5874/S-4233 be held from consideration.  This legislation would significantly restrict the use of virtual instruction in New Jersey schools when needed to meet instructional needs in a district.  The bill would further require New Jersey school districts to directly employ all teachers and certain licensed professionals with minor exceptions, to provide instructional and other direct student services, prohibiting the use of contracted employees and virtual instruction in most cases.  In light of the current staffing crisis, this bill will negatively impact student learning opportunities in our schools and NJPSA thanks you for telling legislators about the bill’s negative impacts.  Due to strong advocacy by NJPSA and other education partners, this legislation was not moved in the Senate.  It is scheduled to be considered by the full General Assembly on Monday, and we anticipate we will be revisiting this issue again early in the new session. We urge any member who is utilizing virtual learning options in your district to share this information with your Government Relations team at NJPSA to inform our continuing advocacy efforts. 


Bill Requiring Schools to Provide Instruction on Grief Signed into Law

The new law, P.L.2023, c.201, formerly bill number S-3330/A-5015 requires school districts to provide instruction on grief as part of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education. Under the bill, New Jersey’s public schools will be required to provide instruction for students in grades 8 through 12, on, at a minimum, the physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms of grief; coping mechanisms and techniques for handling grief and loss; and resources available to students, including in-school support, mental health crisis support, and individual and group therapy.  Additionally, the Department of Education will be required to provide school districts with age-appropriate resources concerning grief. The bill will take effect immediately and requires the State Board of Education to adopt standards pertaining to grief concurrent with the five-year review and update cycle of the content areas.


Bill Allowing 17-Year-Olds to Vote in Primary Election if they Will be 18 by General Election Signed Into Law

Governor Murphy signed A-3690/S-1888, the “New Voter Empowerment Act”, allowing any registered voter who is 17 years of age by the time of a primary election to vote in that primary if they turn 18 years old on or before the next general election. Current law permits a person who is at least 17 years of age to register to vote if the person will be at least 18 at the time of the election. However, the person is designated in the Statewide Voter Registration System as temporarily ineligible to vote until that person’s 18th birthday. The new law, P.L.2023, c.202, which will take effect on January 1, 2026, allows that person to vote in a primary election as long as the person turns 18 years of age on or before the next general election.


Bill Establishing Educator Evaluation Review Task Force and Clarifying Collection of Student Growth Data Advanced by Committee

The Assembly State and Local Government Committee advanced A-5877, a bill that would establish the New Jersey Educator Evaluation Review Task Force to study and evaluate the educator evaluation system established pursuant to the TEACHNJ Act and implemented in New Jersey public schools. NJPSA had deep concerns with the bill as originally drafted, and has been heavily involved in working with the sponsors on amendments to this bill.  On December 21st, the bill was substituted for a new version.  This week, the committee further amended the bill. NJPSA will report fully on this bill next week when we have more of a sense of what the final version will look like. 


Bill Creating a Certification Route for Educators Holding a Montessori Teaching Credential Advanced by Committee

The Assembly State and Local Government Committee advanced S-3172/A-4689, a bill that would require the state Board of Examiners to establish a certification program for candidates holding a Montessori teaching credential without having completed a state-approved educator preparation program. Those teachers must still hold an accredited bachelor’s degree and pass any state-mandated tests to obtain their certificate of eligibility.  New Jersey already offers an alternative route program for those with a bachelor’s degree who have not completed a formal teacher preparation program but have 30 credits – 12 of which must be at junior, senior or graduate level – in a specific subject area. Aspiring teachers with an associate degree and 4,000 hours experience, four years experience equaling 8,000 hours, or military veterans holding a military discharge and verification of military experience and training certificates can also go through the alternate route program. Candidates going through a traditional route program must complete a formal teacher preparation program at an accredited college or university before earning a certificate of eligibility with advanced standing.


Bill Allowing School Districts to Submit Separate Budget Proposals Outside of November Election Advanced by Committee

The Assembly State and Local Government Committee advanced A-2218.  This legislation would authorize a school district that moves its annual school election to November to submit separate proposals for additional spending for the budget year and subsequent budget year. Under current law, a school district may submit a separate question or proposal for permission to raise additional funds beyond the district’s authorized tax levy cap, in order to support a particular program or purpose at the annual school election. This bill provides that in the case of a school district that has moved its annual school election to November, the district may:

  •  submit a separate proposal for additional funds for the budget year, or 
  • a separate proposal for additional funds for the subsequent budget year,
  • or separate proposals for additional funds for each of those budget years. 

The bill stipulates, however, that in the case of a district that submits a separate question for the subsequent budget year and the question is approved, the school district may not increase its tax levy for that subsequent budget year by the amount of any “banked” tax levy that the district may have at its disposal under the cap banking provisions of the law. In light of the fact that a school district with a  November election is already well into the school year by the time a separate question is approved by the voters, this bill will provide such districts with flexible options to increase their ability to do sound budget planning.  The bill addresses situations similar to the one faced by a school district that submitted a separate question to the voters to ask for their approval to raise additional tax levy to expand the district’s half-day kindergarten program to a full-day program.  When the voters approved the question, it was the district’s intention to expand the kindergarten program in the next school year and to begin raising the additional tax levy in that next year.  However, under current law the tax levy would begin to be collected in the school year in which it received voter approval and the collection could not be delayed until the next school year.  Under this bill, the collection of the taxes could be delayed.


Bill Eliminating Required Vote on School Budgets for Type II School Districts in April Elections Except for Separate Proposals to Spend Above the Cap Advanced by Committee

The Assembly Appropriations Committee advanced S-4209/A-5879, a bill that would eliminate the vote on school budgets for Type II school districts in April elections, except for separate proposals to spend above cap.  Under current law, a Type II school district may decide to hold their annual school election on either the third Tuesday in April or during the general election in November.  Current law provides that any district that holds its school election in April is also required to obtain voter approval of its base budget, which is a budget with a proposed tax levy that does not exceed its tax levy cap.  Under the bill, a Type II school district that opts to hold its annual school election in April will no longer be required to obtain voter approval for their base budgets.  The bill provides that any proposal for additional funds above the school district’s tax levy cap will continue to be required to be presented to the voters for approval. Under the bill, a school district that holds its annual school election in November may submit to the voters at the April school election a proposal for additional funds or a proposal to issue school bonds.  The bill provides that the annual reorganization meeting for a type II district with an April school election will be on a day between May 1 and May 7, inclusive.  Member terms are set to begin for type II districts with April school elections on May 1st and end on April 30th.  Member terms are set to begin for type II districts with November school elections on January 1st and end on December 31st.    In the event that a district opts to move its annual election date from November to April, member terms are to be shortened accordingly.   


Bill Establishing a Timeline for Review and Approval by the Commissioner of Education of Annual Certified Audits Submitted by APSSDs Advanced by Committee

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee advanced S-2927/A-4396.  Pursuant to regulation, APSSDs are required to submit annually to the Commissioner of Education an independent audit as part of the tuition-setting process and accountability structure.  It is not uncommon for the commissioner to take 20 years or more to complete the review of the submitted annual audit and finalize the tuition rate charged by the APSSDs to sending school districts for that school year.  This inordinate delay creates havoc in the budgeting process for both the APSSDs and the sending school districts.  There is also a manifest unfairness in holding APSSDs responsible for audits that were completed so far in the past, because it is difficult for the APSSDs to defend themselves against the audit review findings under these circumstances.  Basic fairness to the APSSDs requires timely notice of the audit review findings and a meaningful chance to be heard and defend against the finding.  There is also a concern that an audit finding by the commissioner regarding an audit completed many years ago will be repeated in each succeeding year as a continuing finding and thereby compound the financial impact of any disagreement, error, or omission. The bill provides a timeline within which the Commissioner of Education must issue any adverse finding, adjustment, or penalty regarding an audit submitted by an APSSD.  For audits submitted for any school year ending after the effective date of the bill, the action of the commissioner must be within seven years of the date of the submission of that audit.  For audits submitted for any school year ending prior to the effective date of the bill, the action of the commissioner must be within seven years of the date of the submission of that audit or two years following the effective date of the bill, whichever is the later date.


Bill Updating the School Development Authority Operations and Funding Mechanisms Advanced by Committee

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee advanced legislation to update the School Development Authority (SDA) operations and funding mechanisms to get critical school construction projects off the ground. A-4496 makes various changes to the way that school construction can be funded in New Jersey. It also establishes a new low-interest loan program through the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) to fund capital projects of existing or future charter and renaissance school buildings in the state’s 31 SDA districts. The bill would also establish a “Charter and Renaissance School Project Facilities Loan Program” within the NJEDA as a way for SDA’s 31 districts to obtain low-interest funding. The bill would require all school districts to include capital improvement plans in their long-range facilities planning, establish new tools for non-SDA district schools to initiate school construction projects and taxpayer and work protections to ensure only qualified contractors perform school construction projects. Additionally, it takes several steps to modernize the SDA, adding two members appointed by the legislature and as well as an additional public member appointed by the Governor.


Bill Requiring Certain Nonpublic Schools to Provide Meals to All Students and Authorizes Limited Expansion of Income Eligibility to Qualify for Free Lunch

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee advanced S-4055/A-5684, a bill that would expand access to free school meals in both public and non-public schools that participate in the federal National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The bill would expand access to free meals to more students from more families, further clarify that school breakfasts are included under the provisions for free school meals, and ensure that non-public schools participating in federal lunch and breakfast programs are included. These provisions would apply for the 2024-25 school year, during which the bill would further direct the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education to review the reimbursement to school districts for the financial cost of the program, ensure cost efficiency, and report on the number of students who receive free meals through the program. The information gathered during this time would inform future efforts or reforms to New Jersey’s school meal programs. In 2022, New Jersey enacted the “Working Class Families’ Anti-Hunger Act”, which expanded access to free school lunch for children whose families annually earned not more than 199% of the federal poverty level. This bill further expands access to free meals to students who come from families with an annual household income of not more than 224% of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, 224% of the federal poverty level would be equivalent to an annual income of roughly $67,200.


Please tune in next week as we wrap up Lame Duck and begin a new legislative session with a new slate of bills and many new legislators!  Please contact your Government Relations Team at NJPSA with any questions or to provide information on virtual learning in your district:  Thank you for your advocacy, and for all that you do.