Update from the NJ Statehouse: Week of November 29, 2021
Both houses of the Legislature returned to the Statehouse for voting sessions this week. In addition to the typical “lame duck” drama, the start of the session was further intensified by somewhat of a showdown between some Republican lawmakers in the lower house and NJ State Troopers, as some Republican Assembly members refused to comply with a new statehouse policy to either show proof of vaccine or negative COVID-19 test result in order to enter the chamber. Ultimately both sessions got underway. Despite having quite a number of education-related bills on their Board list, the General Assembly voted on a very abbreviated list and did not consider any education-related measures. Following are the education bills that were advanced by the Senate.
A bill requiring compilation of data and issuance of annual reports on NJ teacher workforce
S-2835 (Ruiz / Cunningham) This bill establishes certain reporting requirements concerning the current and projected teacher workforce in the State. The bill requires school districts to annually submit to the Commissioner of Education, no later than October 15, information for the current school year on teaching positions, including the number of vacant teaching positions, the number of new teaching positions, the number of teaching positions that were eliminated, and the anticipated teacher retirements. Under the bill, this information would be submitted through the NJ SMART Education Data System. The bill also requires school districts to annually submit to the commissioner, no later than September 1, information on public school teacher retention that includes:
(1) the number of teachers who left employment with the district during the prior school year;
(2) the reason why those teachers left employment with the district, including dismissal, non-renewal of a contract, a reduction in force, employment in another school district or a nonpublic school, employment in another field, relocation to another state, or retirement;
(3) the characteristics of the teachers who left the district, including age, sex, race, and tenure status; and
(4) such other information the commissioner deems appropriate.
Under the bill, the commissioner would annually compile the data submitted by school districts into a report that details the Statewide, county, and district trends in teacher retention and includes any recommendations that the commissioner may have on State actions that may be initiated to improve teacher retention among various demographic groups. The commissioner would also submit the report to the Governor and to the Legislature.
The Senate passed this bill on December 2nd by a vote of (34-1). The bill is awaiting a committee hearing in the General Assembly.
A bill renaming “security aid” as “health and safety aid”
S-3013 This bill changes all references of security aid to health and safety aid in the “School Funding Reform Act of 2008,” P.L.2007, c.260 (C.18A:7F-43 et al.), and related statutes to reflect that a secure school also includes students’ mental health and wellbeing. The bill further amends the “Secure Schools for All Children Act,” P.L.2016, c.49 (C.18A:58-37.8 et seq.), to provide that the aid allocated for the provision of security services to nonpublic schools under the statute may also be used for mental health services. The bill also makes various other changes to the law to reflect this change. The Senate passed this bill on December 2nd by a vote of (36-0). The bill is awaiting a committee hearing in the General Assembly.
A bill requiring instruction on the history and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
S-4021 This bill 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 Senate passed this bill on December 2nd by a vote of (34-2). The bill is awaiting a committee hearing in the General Assembly.
A bill allowing an alternative evaluation to basic skills testing for certain teacher certifications
S-4074 This bill eliminates the requirement to pass a basic skills test as a condition of eligibility for a standard instructional certificate in a 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. The Department of Education currently uses the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators test as the sole measure of basic skills proficiency. This bill allows all CE and CEAS candidates in a CTE endorsement to obtain a CE, CEAS, or a standard instructional certificate through alternate measures instead of completing the basic skills test. The bill defines “alternate measure” as any demonstration of basic skills proficiency, other than a test, that is approved by the Department of Education, including, but not limited to: work product portfolios; obtainment of an occupational license or certification; or an industry certificate or registration. The Senate passed this bill on December 2nd by a vote of (34-0). The bill is awaiting a committee hearing in the General Assembly.
The Senate Adopted Governor Murphy’s Conditional Vetoes on the following bills:
A bill concerning speech rights of student journalists
S-108 (Gill / Turner / Caputo) This bill seeks to establish a new law that will address the speech rights of student journalists in public schools and public institutions of higher education. It provides that a student at a public school or a public institution of higher education who gathers, compiles, writes, edits, photographs, records, or prepares information for dissemination in school-sponsored media has the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press and is responsible for determining the news, opinion, feature, and advertising content of the school-sponsored media. NJPSA was able to work with the Administration to secure important CV language that still enables a school official to restrain student expression if necessary. The Senate concurred with Governor Murphy’s Recommendations set forth in his Conditional Veto by a vote of (35-1). This bill will now go to the General Assembly. If the lower house also adopts the Governor’s recommendations, it will go to his desk to be signed into law.
A bill establishing a loan redemption program for certain teachers
S-969 (Ruiz / Turner / Mazzeo) establishes a loan redemption program in the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (“HESAA”) to allow teachers to redeem a portion of New Jersey College Loans to Assist State Students (“NJCLASS”) loan amounts for service in high-need fields in low performing schools in New Jersey. The bill defines “high-need field” as a subject area or field of expertise in which there is a shortage of qualified teachers in the State as determined by the Department of Education. “Low performing school” is defined as any public school that: (1) among all students in that school to whom a State assessment was administered, the sum of the percent of students scoring in the “not yet meeting expectations” and “partially meeting expectations” categories in both the language arts and mathematics subject areas of the State assessments exceeded 40 percent in each of the prior two school years; or (2) among all students in that school to whom a State assessment was administered, the sum of the percent of students scoring in the “not yet meeting expectations” and “partially meeting expectations” categories in either the language arts or mathematics subject areas of the State assessment exceeded 65 percent in each of the prior two school years. The Senate concurred with Governor Murphy’s Recommendations set forth in his Conditional Veto by a vote of (35-1). This bill will now go to the General Assembly. If the lower house also adopts the Governor’s recommendations, it will go to his desk to be signed into law.
A bill mandating training on culturally responsive teaching for teacher candidates
S-2834 (Ruiz / Cunningham / Quijano) This bill provides that all candidates for teaching certification who have completed an educator preparation program at a commissioner-approved educator preparation program provider must have satisfactorily completed a course or training on culturally responsive teaching.The bill further requires that all commissioner-approved educator preparation program providers review and update their educator preparation programs to implement the bill’s requirements and submit the revisions to the Department of Education for approval. The bill defines “culturally responsive teaching” to mean: a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning, and which uses research-based teaching strategies that make meaningful connections between what students learn in school and their cultures, languages, and experiences. The Senate concurred with Governor Murphy’s Recommendations set forth in his Conditional Veto by a vote of (30-1), revising the bill to require completion of culturally responsive teaching training beginning with the 2022-2023 school year rather than the 2021-2022 school year. This bill will now go to the General Assembly. If the lower house also adopts the Governor’s recommendations, it will go to his desk to be signed into law.
A bill concerning school district regionalization
S-3488 (Sweeney / Gopal / O’Scanlon) – This bill creates a grant program within the Division of Local Government Services in the Department of Community Affairs, the purpose of which is to provide for the reimbursement of eligible costs associated with conducting feasibility studies that support the creation of meaningful and implementable plans to form or expand regional school districts. Under the bill, the division may retain one percent of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available for the program for the purpose of offsetting the administrative expenses of the program. The Senate unanimously (36-0) concurred with Governor Murphy’s Recommendations set forth in his Conditional Veto recommending language revisions to ensure that the voting rights established for sending district board members remain consistent. If the lower house also adopts the Governor’s recommendations, it will go to his desk to be signed into law.