Jennie Lamon, NJPSA Assistant Director of Government Relations
The New Jersey Statehouse is bustling, as committees have resumed their full schedules, the Legislature is wrangling with the state budget, and public groups are once again assembling in our state’s capital, signifying a continued reemergence from the pandemic. On Thursday, May 26th, 2002, both houses of the Legislature convened for voting sessions and advanced various measures affecting New Jersey public schools. Legislation pertaining to school meal programs, financial assistance for schools damaged by natural disasters, granting students an excused absence to attend civic events, and the establishment of a “Purple Star” schools program were considered this week.
The State Senate voted to pass the following bills on Thursday, May 26th:
Assistance for Schools Damaged by Natural Disasters
S-1892 authorizes boards of education and certain municipalities to issue bonds to repair damages caused by natural disasters in certain circumstances. The bill would create alternate processes for issuing bonds to finance school-related costs for repairs of school facilities damaged by weather-related disasters. Under the bill, rather than requiring a public referendum, the Commissioner of Education could authorize the local board of education to approve a resolution for the bonding by a two-thirds vote of full board membership. Bonds, under the provisions of this bill, would be issued if the school-related repairs are necessary in order to provide a thorough and efficient system of education within the district and if the repair costs are eligible for reimbursement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The bill was released from the Senate on Thursday by a vote of 31-1, with 8 members not voting. NJPSA was neutral on this legislation.
Granting Students Excused Absence to Attend ‘Civic Events’
S-2304 would permit excused absences for students who attend civic events. Excused absences taken under the legislation would not be reflected on student attendance records. Under the bill, a “civic event” would be defined as “event sponsored by a government entity, a community-based organization, or a nonprofit organization that incorporates elements of service learning whereby students learn and develop through organized service. A civic event shall address an issue of public concern such as community health and safety or environmental, economic, or community well-being.” The New Jersey High School Democrats, the New Jersey High School Republicans, and the Young Ecosocialists of the Green Party of New Jersey have all been actively involved in support of the legislation. The bill was released from the Senate on Thursday by a vote of 36-0. The companion bill is pending in the Assembly State and Local Government Committee. NJPSA supported this legislation.
The General Assembly voted to pass the following bills on Thursday, May 26th:
School Food Vendors Public Education Campaign
A-2365 – Current law requires the Department of Agriculture (DOA), in consultation with the Department of Education (DOE), to develop pamphlets and other promotional materials for the State’s school meals programs and provide such promotional materials to every school district in the State, for distribution to the parents and guardians of students who are enrolled at schools in the district. This bill would amend this law to instead require each food service vendor or food service management company that provides a food service to students in the State to: (1) develop and implement a public education campaign that is designed to educate parents and guardians of students at schools served by the vendor or management company about the various school meals program options that are available to students in New Jersey and the availability of free and reduced price meals, thereunder, to students who satisfy federal or State-level eligibility criteria; and (2) develop promotional materials for the State’s school meals programs, and provide copies of the promotional materials to each school served by the vendor or management company, for distribution, by school staff, to the parents and guardians of students enrolled at the school. The Assembly passed this bill on Thursday by a vote of 76-0-0. NJPSA supported this legislation.
“Working Class Families’ Anti-HUnger Act”
A-2368 Designed to expand student eligibility for free school meals, this bill would require schools to provide free school breakfasts and lunches to students from working class, middle-income families. Families with an annual household income of up to 200 percent the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), raised above the current eligibility of 185 percent of FPL, would benefit from free of charge breakfast and lunch at school under the bill. The bill also seeks to address hunger among students in potentially more affluent communities by expanding the number of school districts in New Jersey serving school lunch and breakfast with changes to school meal program participation thresholds, which would require schools to offer breakfast if ten percent of the student population is income eligible and to offer lunch if five percent of students are eligible. The legislation would require the State to provide funding to each school district, as needed to reimburse the costs of providing free meals to middle-income students who are federally ineligible under the National School Lunch Program or federal School Breakfast Program. This would amount to an annual cost of $19.4 million to the State. The General Assembly voted 75-3-1 in favor of this bill on Thursday. This measure is part of a larger legislative package, also passed Thursday, which seeks to combat hunger and expands the accessibility of food safety net programs for working-class families, seniors, and disabled residents. NJPSA supported this legislation.
Establishes “Purple Star Schools Program”
A-3694 creates a Purple Star Schools Program in the Department of Education. Under the bill, the Commissioner of Education will annually recognize as Purple Star Schools those schools that provide for, or have made significant progress to respond to, the educational and social-emotional challenges military-connected students encounter during the transition to a new school when the student’s parent or guardian is an active duty member of the United States Armed Forces and is relocated due to the active duty member’s continued military service. A Purple Star School will be designated as such if it provides programs and services that include, but need not be limited to training for faculty and staff members to ease entry into the new school environment for military-connected students; student-led programs to help create social connections, including an emphasis on programs for students who arrive mid-year and miss out on the normal cycles of sports and club activities; a military family webpage on the school website to inform parents and guardians about programs and services; relevant professional development opportunities for additional school staff; and holding school-wide military recognition events that raise awareness and recognize the value of military service. NJPSA supported this legislation.
ACR-109 This concurrent resolution urges the United States Congress to pass the “Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021.” This federal legislation would provide free breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack to all school children regardless of their socioeconomic background. This legislation also eliminates school food debt and reimburses schools for all delinquent school meal debt. NJPSA supported this legislation.
Please check back next Thursday for more updates, as the State Board of Education and the Senate Education Committee both have scheduled meetings next week. As always, your NJPSA Government Relations Team will be there representing your interests. If you have questions about these, or any other legislative matters, please contact Director of Government Relations Debbie Bradley firstname.lastname@example.org or Assistant Director of Government Relations Jennie Lamon at email@example.com at any time. Thank you for your continued support and advocacy, and for all that you do.