Update from the NJ Statehouse Week of February 14th, 2022 What happened in Education Policy Under the Golden Dome this Week?

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Both the Senate and General Assembly held voting sessions on Monday.  The Assembly only took up one bill, a measure that would extend the time Governor Phil Murphy has to deliver the gubernatorial budget message to Tuesday, March 8th  (from Tuesday, Feb. 22nd). The bill, A-2063, extending the delivery of the statutorily-mandated message was passed in a 43-32 party line vote on Monday. Opponents of the bill argued the move was politically motivated, would unnecessarily delay an important process, and shorten the amount of time legislators had to debate the Governor’s proposed budget.  Despite the opposition, the bill, which went straight to a vote by both chambers without any committee hearings, also passed the Senate on Monday by a vote of 23-11. The bill was signed into law by Governor Murphy on February 15th, 2022 (P.L.2022, c.1).


In addition to the budget extension bill, the Senate on Monday also unanimously passed S-354, a bill that would create a task force to reevaluate the current school funding formula. Sponsored by the new Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Senator Gopal, in a bipartisan effort with Senator Steve Oroho, the bill would establish the task force to study whether the state’s school funding formula adequately meets the needs of school districts, examine the effectiveness of the current system, and recommend improvements if needed.  The task force would be required to issue a report on its findings within a year to the Governor and the Legislature. The Senate Education Committee approved the measure two weeks ago. The bill has been referred to the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee, where it awaits action by the lower house. 


Finally, the Senate unanimously released S-905, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Vin Gopal to extend the period of time for filing a special education due process petition. This bill would extend the period of time a parent, guardian, or local educational agency has to request a due process hearing regarding the education of a child with disabilities during a COVID-19 school closure or during periods of virtual, remote, hybrid, or in-person instruction. The extension is meant to provide parents and districts with more time to formulate a plan to make up for any missed services. The intent is for this to allow parents to avoid due process claims, which can often postpone the delivery of services due to the time it takes to resolve them. Under the bill, individuals would have until September 1, 2023 to file a claim regarding insufficient services occurring between March 18, 2020 and September 1, 2021. The bill has been passed by the Assembly Education Committee, but has not yet been acted upon by the full General Assembly.  


Also on Monday, the Assembly Agriculture and Food Security Committee met for their first meeting of the new session. This Committee, under the leadership of a newly appointed Chairman Assemblyman Roy Freiman, has a new name and a new focus.  On Monday, this Committee advanced 11 bills targeting hunger in the state. Spearheading this package of bills addressing food insecurity  is Speaker Craig Coughlin, Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey. 


Among the bills in the package that advanced on Monday was the “Working Class Families’ Anti-Hunger Act”, A-2368, a bill that would enable more working-class students to be eligible for the free breakfast and lunch option and create a pathway to a universal school meals program. Schools would be required to provide free school breakfasts and lunches free of charge to students from working class, middle-income families. The “Working Class Families’ Anti-Hunger Act” would help reach 26,463 families under the free lunch and breakfast program at a cost of approximately $19.2 million every year. The legislation would require the state to provide funding to each school district, as may be necessary to reimburse the costs associated with the district’s provision of free meals to middle-income students who are federally ineligible for such meals under the National School Lunch Program or federal School Breakfast Program. These reimbursement provisions are similar to current law, which provides that a student who is federally eligible for reduced price meals be not required to pay any cost for those meals, and that the State will reimburse schools for the difference between the federal allocation for reduced price meals and the total cost of the meals served to such students. NJPSA testified in support of this initiative. 


Two other bills addressing school meals were introduced as part of the package.  NJPSA supported both.  A-2365, requires the Department of Agriculture to start a public education campaign to educate parents and guardians of students about existing and expanding school meals program options in New Jersey. ACR-109,  urges the United States Congress to pass the “Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021.”  


These bills will next be considered for a vote by the full General Assembly. 


If you have questions about these, or any other bills before the NJ Legislature, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your NJPSA Government Relations Department at any time.  Director of Government Relations: Debra Bradley dbradley@njpsa.org or Assistant DIrector of Government Relations Jennie Lamon jlamon@njpsa.org. The NJPSA Legislative Committee will meet on Friday March 4th at 1 PM.  To register for the meeting, or join the Legislative Committee, please contact Jennie at jlamon@njpsa.org. Thank you for your ongoing advocacy!