As the 2020-2021 Lame Duck Session is well underway, feathers continue to be ruffled at the Statehouse. As the debate about whether or not statehouse complex employees and legislators can be, or should be, required to show proof of vaccination or evidence of a recent negative Covid test result in order to gain access to the building rages on, the Legislature continues to advance their lame duck priorities. While the Senate continued to meet in-person this week with little fanfare, the Assembly shifted all of their hearings to remote this week. However, Assembly leadership has announced that in-person committee meetings will resume next week, all but ensuring another showdown between the State Police and a handful of Republican Assembly Members who have indicated a refusal to comply with the vaccine or test mandate. The Republicans have filed a lawsuit with a hearing date of Monday.
Between in-person and remote, it was a busy week of session days. A number of education related bills had action. Read on to find out what bills were advanced by committees this week.
Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee
On Monday, December 6th, the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee favorably released A-2078 by a vote of 5-0, with 1 member not voting. This bill provides that no construction permit may be issued for the construction, reconstruction, alteration, conversion, repair, or upgrade to any flooring in a school or child care center unless the applicant presents a certification issued by the manufacturer of the flooring materials to be used that the materials are free of mercury and compounds containing mercury. A flooring manufacturer that issues a certificate for the purposes of the bill that falsely states that a flooring product is free of mercury and compounds containing mercury will be liable to a civil penalty of $10,000 for a first offense and $25,000 for a second or subsequent offense.
Senate Labor Committee
On Monday, December 6th, the Senate Labor Committee advanced S-1573/A-1534, sponsored by Senator James Beach, a bill that would establish the “New Jersey Works Act.” The bill would permit businesses to create pre-employment training programs in partnership with nonprofit organizations or educational institutions. Under the bill, institutions of higher education, comprehensive high schools, county vocational schools or nonprofit organizations would be able to partner with a business to establish a pre-employment and work readiness training program. The purpose of the program would be to recruit, prepare, and educate individuals for entry-level jobs with long-term career potential through paid training programs. Additionally, businesses would be able to receive a credit against their corporation business tax or gross income tax in order to fully cover any financial assistance provided to support a qualified pre-employment and work readiness training program that is approved by the State Employment and Training Commission. A maximum of $12 million in tax credits per State fiscal year would be granted to eligible businesses. The Committed voted (5-0) to advance the bill out of committee.
Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee
On Monday, December 6th, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee advanced
S-3471, sponsored by Senators Turner and Ruiz, a bill that would require students to complete the financial aid application as part of high school graduation requirements. This bill provides that, beginning with the 2022-2023 grade 11 class, the State Board of Education will require that the local graduation requirements adopted by a board of education include the requirement that a student complete and submit a financial aid application in a form prescribed by the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. There are two exemptions included in the bill. A student will be exempt from the graduation requirement if the student submits to the school district: (1) a form signed by the parent or guardian, or by the student if he is at least 18 years of age, requesting the exemption; or (2) a form signed by the school counselor authorizing the exemption for good cause as defined by the State board. The Commissioner of Education, in consultation with the Executive Director of the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, will provide a list of resources for school districts, parents, and students that include instructions on how to complete a financial aid application prescribed by the authority. The executive director of the authority will make available such resources as are necessary directly to school counselors or other school employees who assist students in completing the financial aid application. Each school district will annually notify students and the parents or guardians of the requirement established by the bill. The Department of Education will verify which students have met the requirement established by the bill with the authority and will include that information in the student’s record. The department will also include information on the number of students who have met the requirement in the School Report Card issued under current law.
The measure was passed by the committee unanimously without any discussion. NJPSA submitted testimony requesting that the bill be held.
Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee
On Monday, December 6th, the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee advanced a bill that would allow certain persons with developmental disabilities older than 21 years of age to attend special education programs and to simultaneously participate in adult day and employment programs. Under current law, people with developmental disabilities age out of special education programs after age 21, and can participate in an adult day program or an employment program, but not both at the same time. The sponsor contends that some people who, at a younger age, had issues that prevented them from being enrolled in a special education program might have made progress with those issues and would now benefit from attendance at a special education program. Similarly, some people may benefit from participation in both a day program and an employment program, as the two types of programs offer different types of services and training that, when combined, can more fully reach the needs of a given individual. NJPSA testified with questions about what population this bill is intended to cover that is not already covered under another statute. The Committee unanimously advanced Senate Bill S3298 by a vote of (8-0).
S-3723 requires DCF and DOE to establish policies and procedures relating to child abuse and neglect and child abuse prevention during a public health emergency. NJPSA was able to secure important amendments to provide that: 1) the training specific to public health emergencies will be a component of a larger training program; 2) the training program is to be an online program; 3) the training program will be made available, without charge, to all school districts in the State to assist in meeting training requirements for school employees related to child abuse and neglect; and 4) the training program is to be developed in consultation with education and private entities with expertise in issues related to detecting, reporting, and preventing child abuse and neglect. The committee voted to advance the bill as amended by a vote of (8-0).
Assembly Education Committee
Under the pilot program established by A4595/S2829, the Commissioner will select 10 male students of color from among the senior public institutions of higher education selected for participation in the pilot program and 10 male teachers of color from the school districts selected for participation in the pilot program. To be eligible for the program, a student is required to be in his final year of an educator preparation program. The Commissioner of Education will then pair each selected student with a current teacher, who will serve as the student’s mentor through the candidate’s last year of his educator preparation program and the first two years of the student’s teaching career. A school district participating in the pilot program will commit to hiring each student participating in the program, upon each candidate’s graduation from an educator preparation program. The committee voted unanimously to advance this bill.
A-5291/S-2830 seeks to address the shrinking pool of teacher candidates by requiring educator preparation programs to submit an annual report to the Department of Education on the first-time and overall test pass rates of candidates for instructional certificates. The educator preparation program would have to publish this information on their website and the Department of Education would compile the data into a publicly available comparative profile of all educator preparation programs. Under the bill, educator preparation programs would also have to inform students about the availability of test fee waivers and include an optional lab fee in the program’s tuition and fees to be applied to the testing costs required for instructional certification. The committee voted unanimously to advance this bill. NJPSA supported this bill.
A-5292/S-2835 aims to collect data on teacher shortages in school districts throughout New Jersey. Districts would be required to submit a report to the Commissioner of Education on the number of vacancies, new positions, eliminated positions and anticipated retirements in their schools. The districts would also have to submit an annual report on teacher retention to explain the number of teachers that left employment, why they left and the characteristics of those who left. Under the bill, the Commissioner would be required to compile the data submitted by school districts along with recommendations to improve teacher retention among different demographic groups and submit it to the Governor and the Legislature. The Executive Leadership Council of the New Jersey Education to Earning Data System would also have to issue a report on the State’s teacher workforce projections for the following two years using data provided by the Department of Education. This report would then be issued annually. The committee voted unanimously to advance this bill. NJPSA supported this bill.
A-5999 requires the Department of Education to submit an annual report to the Governor and Legislature concerning the amount of grant funds received by the department and distributed to school districts pursuant to the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act,” the “Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act, the “American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act of 2021,” Pub.L.117-2, or any other federal funding made available to states to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The department would also be required to report the purposes for which grant funds were used by recipient school districts. The department would further be required to submit a final report regarding the expenditure of federal grant funds received to address the impact of COVID-19 on public education no later than six months following the complete exhaustion of funds by recipient school districts. The committee voted unanimously to advance this bill. NJPSA supported this bill.
This bill eliminates the requirement to pass a basic skills test as a condition of eligibility for a standard instructional certificate in a career and technical education (CTE) endorsement. Under this bill, provisional CTE teacher candidates will be permitted to demonstrate basic skills proficiency through an alternate measure approved by the Department of Education, instead of taking the basic skills test. Under current State Board of Education regulations, a provisional CTE teacher candidate seeking a standard instructional certificate in a career and technical education endorsement is required to demonstrate basic skills proficiency; the Department of Education currently uses the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators test as the sole measure of basic skills proficiency. Candidates for a certificate of eligibility with advanced standing (CEAS), prior to their admission into a CEAS educator preparation program, are generally required to demonstrate basic skills proficiency through the achievement of a minimum score on a Commissioner-approved test of basic reading, writing, and mathematics. Alternatively, candidates for a CEAS may meet the basic skills testing requirement by demonstrating a score on the SAT, ACT, or GRE at or above the cut score for the year in which the exam was taken. A-6000/S-4074 voted unanimously to advance this bill. NJPSA supported this bill.
This bill postpones the comprehensive review of certain school districts under the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJQSAC) for the 2021-2022 school year. Under this bill, the comprehensive review of certain districts would be postponed to allow school districts and the Department of Education to focus additional resources on addressing issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill would postpone until the 2024-2025 school year the comprehensive review of districts that: (1) are required to undergo a comprehensive review in the 2021-2022 school year; and (2) were designated as a high performing district in the school district’s most recent comprehensive review. A district wishing to move forward with their review as scheduled this year may still do so. NJPSA submitted testimony in support of this bill. The committee voted unanimously in favor of A-6001.
A-6100/S-4021 requires a board of education to include instruction on the history and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in an appropriate place in the curriculum of students in grades kindergarten through 12 as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Social Studies. The bill would also require a board of education to have policies and procedures in place pertaining to the selection of instructional materials that comply with the provisions of this bill. In adopting materials for use in the school district, a board of education would be required to adopt inclusive instructional materials that portray the cultural and economic diversity of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The committee voted unanimously to advance this bill. The full Senate previously passed this bill on December 2nd by a vote of (34-2).
Assembly Agriculture Committee
This bill requires 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 must collect data on student academic outcomes from all school districts within thirty days of the bill’s effective date. The commissioner will require each school district to submit the required data within 30 days of the bill’s effective date. The bill directs the commissioner to prepare and submit a report to the Governor and to the Legislature within 60 days of the bill’s effective date. The learning loss report must:
(1) 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, where practicable; and
(2) 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, where practicable.
The bill also directs the commissioner to require each school district to submit data and information related to the continuation of school services during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The school district must submit the data and information to the commissioner within 90 days of the bill’s effective date. The data and information must be provided for the time period beginning on the date of the school district’s closure in March of 2020 and ending on the bill’s effective date