Update from Trenton: What is Happening in and Around the Golden Dome
-Jennie Lamon, NJPSA Assistant Director of Government Relations
We are exactly one week into 2022, and what a busy week it has been for education. Between the final days of Lame Duck wrapping up, NJPSA Executive Director Karen Bingert testifying before the Senate Education Committee, the State Board of Education meeting, and the Governor taking action on bills, your NJPSA GR team has a lot of information to share with you.
Senate Education Committee
Yesterday Senator Teresa Ruiz chaired her final meeting as Chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. Senator Ruiz will become the new Majority Leader of the NJ State Senate on January 11th. At her final Senate Education committee meeting, Ruiz convened education stakeholders to discuss the current status of school district operations throughout the State, and the status of federal funding received by the State and local districts to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on schools. NJPSA Executive DirectorKaren Bingertpresented testimony about how members are grappling with major staffing shortages in every position on a daily basis, citing that schools are having trouble hiring bus drivers, English teachers and physical education teachers, “roles that we never really struggled to fill — ever” — in her recollection in nearly 30 years in education. At the same time, there are fewer and fewer candidates applying for positions in education. Combined with the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, Bingert delineated a perfect storm that is brewing that will impact future school operations for the next decade. Bingert’s written testimony is available here. The Committee hearing can be viewed online at https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/. Choose the option in the red box “Archived Proceedings”, then choose “Senate Education”, and then click “view: next to “January 6, 2022”.
Assembly Education Committee
The Assembly Education Committee met remotely on Monday, January 3, 2022 for their final meeting of the 2020-2021 Legislative Session. Following are the bills that were advanced by the Assembly Ed Committee at their final meeting of the session:
A-3012 /S-2162 (Lampitt / Kean / Ruiz) – The Assembly Education Committee reported favorably Assembly Bill No. 3012. This bill requires each public school, and each nonpublic school that receives federal funds and is subject to the requirements of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. s.1681 et seq.), to post on its website, in an easily accessible location, the rights afforded to a student and the responsibilities of the school under Title IX; the name and contact information of the Title IX coordinator for the school, including the Title IX coordinator’s phone number and email address; and the procedure to file a complaint under Title IX. The bill also requires the Commissioner of Education to annually disseminate through electronic means a letter to each public school, and to each nonpublic school which receives federal funds and is subject to the requirements of Title IX, informing the school of the rights afforded to a student and the responsibilities of the school under Title IX. This bill is identical to Senate Bill No. 2162, which has already been unanimously passed by the full Senate. NJPSA supported this bill.
Legislative Youth Council
A-4987 / S-3164 (Houghtaling / Vainieri Huttle / Giblin / Gopal / Singleton) – This bill creates the New Jersey Legislative Youth Council.The council would provide a forum for the youth of this State to participate in the democratic process; to advise the Legislature and its committees, commissions, and task forces on the perspectives, opinions, needs, development, and welfare of the youth of the State; and on the most effective and efficient policies, programs, and services that the State could provide for the youth of this State. The council would also research, analyze, discuss, and make specific recommendations in the areas of civics education; drugs and substance abuse; emotional and physical health; employment and economic opportunities; environmental protection; gun violence and school safety; homelessness and poverty; mental health; safe environments for youth; sexual harassment and violence; youth services; and youth bias and hate crimes. In each two-year term of the New Jersey Legislature, the council would submit in writing a series of policy recommendations to the Legislature. The council could express its position publicly on legislation pending before the New Jersey Legislature that is directly relevant to the needs, development, and welfare of the youth of this State. NJPSA supported this bill.
Permits retired school teacher who is retired from TPAF to return to employment during a public health emergency without reenrollment in TPAF.
A-5576 / S-3685 (Jasey / Lampitt / Ruiz / Codey) – The Committee favorably reported this bill which would permit a teacher or a professional staff member providing special services, including but not limited to a speech language specialist or a therapist, who retired from the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund (TPAF) to return to work full time with a board of education in a position of critical need, as determined by the State Commissioner of Education, without being re-enrolled in the TPAF if reemployment commences during the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year and the entirety of the 2022-2023 school year. If the retired teacher or the retired professional staff member returns to work with the former employer, it must occur more than 180 days after the retirement. This bill will permit the teacher or professional staff member to receive the TPAF retirement allowance as well as a salary. The bill permits the return to work under a contract for one year, which may be renewed only for one additional year. The total period of reemployment with any individual board of education must not exceed a two-year period, unless so approved by the Commissioner of Education as being in the best interests of the school district. Under the bill, the former member’s retirement must have been a bona fide retirement and any employment or reemployment under the bill must not be prearranged before retirement. NJPSA supported this bill.
Extends period of time for filing special education due process petitions related to COVID-19
A-6226 (Stanley / Carter) – This bill extends 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. This bill would allow a parent, guardian, or local educational agency to file a request for a due process hearing regarding the identification, evaluation, educational placement, or the provision of a free and appropriate public education of a child with a disability during a COVID-19 school closure or a period of virtual, remote, hybrid, or in-person instruction occurring between March 18, 2020 and September 1, 2021 at any time prior to September 1, 2023. NJPSA worked to secure important amendments that enabled us to ultimately support the bill.
What the Legislature Failed to Do
A-5011/S-3245 (Wimberly, Greenstein) Despite our best efforts, the Legislature failed to fully pass legislation establishing an accidental death benefit for educators who gave their lives serving students and families by contracting COVID-19 while serving as essential employees during the pandemic. NJPSA thanks our members who contacted your Assembly members and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin over the holidays asking him to pass this bill before the session ends on Tuesday January 11. Unfortunately, the Assembly Appropriations Committee did not hear the bill on Thursday January 6, the last committee day where it could have been heard. The bill was simply not put on the agenda despite the many calls of our members and NJEA members on this issue. The State Senate did unanimously pass this bill early in this legislative session and we thank them for recognizing the critical contribution of NJPSA members and other school employees who sacrificed their lives during this pandemic while serving New Jersey students and families.
While the Assembly refused to pass this bill, they did however,move legislation that would enhance the pensions of certain legislators, legislation that had previously failed on two prior attempts in 2018 and 2020. S-4250 was added to the Senate Budget and Appropriations agenda with no prior notice that the bill would be heard on Thursday. The bill would allow legislators to re-enroll in the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) if they were enrolled for at least ten years but took office after July 1, 2007 when a law barred newly elected officials from earning a defined benefit under the PERS pension system, instead placing them into defined contribution plans similar to a 401(k). This change was part of the major pension reforms for public employees that covered all sectors including schools, but apparently will be revised for certain lawmakers if the bill is finally passed.
Action Taken on Bills by Governor Murphy:
The following education related measures have been signed into law by the Governor. With mere days left of the current Legislative Session; we expect that the Governor will be signing more bills in the coming days, so please stay tuned.
Free Speech Rights of Student Journalists
S-108 /A-169 (Gill, Turner / Caputo, Wirths) – Concerns speech rights of student journalists at public schools and public institutions of higher education. After being Conditionally Vetoed by the Governor, the Legislature adopted the Governor’s recommendations and sent the bill back to him, at which time he signed the bill into law. P.L.2021, c.309 requires that each school district adopt a written policy concerning student freedom of expression. The policy shall include reasonable provisions for the time, place, and manner of student expression. The policy may also include limitations on language that may be defined as profane, harassing, threatening, or intimidating. NJPSA worked on securing important language in this bill that protected the rights of administrators to maintain certain levels of review over student publications. The Governor agreed with the recommendations made by NJPSA and adopted them as part of his Conditional Veto.
Culturally Responsive Teaching Training PreService Requirement
S-2834 / A-5312 (Ruiz, Cunningham / Quijano, Lampitt, McKnight) – Mandates training on culturally responsive teaching for all candidates for teaching certification. This is another bill that had initially been Conditionally Vetoed by the Governor and returned to the Legislature. The Legislature adopted the recommendations made by Governor Murphy, and he subsequently signed the bill into law. P.L.2021, c.311. Under this bill, beginning with the 2022-2023 school year, all candidates for teaching certification who have completed an educator preparation program at a commissioner-approved educator preparation program provider shall have satisfactorily completed a course or training on culturally responsive teaching. NJPSA supported this legislation.
Pilot Program Supporting Robotics Programs in School Districts
A-2455 /S-2204 (Benson, Vainieri Huttle, DeAngelo / Greenstein, Oroho) – Establishes pilot program in DOE to support robotics programs in school districts. Under P.L.2021, c.320, the Commissioner of Education shall establish a three-year pilot program that provides grant funding to encourage and support school districts to establish robotics programs and participate in robotics competitions. The purpose of the pilot program shall be to increase opportunities for students to participate in robotics competitions; motivate students to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; and improve students’ knowledge in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. NJPSA supported this legislation.
Establishes Grant Program for Training School-Based Mental Health Service Providers
A-4433 /S-2715 (Greenwald, Mukherji, Lampitt / Beach, Corrado) – A-4433/S-2715, now P.L.2021, c.322, establishes a grant program in the NJDOE to assist school districts in the training of school-based mental health services providers, expand the pipeline of high-quality, trained providers, and address the shortages of mental health professionals in schools. Grants under the program shall be awarded on a competitive basis. School districts or groups of school districts that receive a grant under the program shall use the funds for efforts to create and grow programs and partnerships that train students who are attending graduate school to become school-based mental health services providers. This act takes effect immediately and shall first apply to the first full school year following the date of enactment. NJPSA supported this bill.
Addresses School-Linked Services Program Applicants
A-4435 /S-2717 (Verrelli, Greenwald, Speight, Lampitt / Beach, Corrado) – A-4435/S-2717, now P.L.2021, c.323, is an Act prioritizing certain applicants under the School-Linked Services Program. In awarding contracts to provide School-Linked Services,the Department of Children and Families shall give priority to new applicants and applicants seeking to expand current programs that, at minimum,include in their application a center or other entity that focuses on providing individual, family, and group clinical mental health counseling services to students. This act will take effect immediately and will expire on the first day of the 25th month next following enactment.
Passed Both Houses, Sent to the Governor for Consideration
Ensures student well-being during school security drills.
A-5727 – This bill as amended requires that a school district must ensure that a school security drill that occurs when students are present iIncludes clear, developmentally and age-appropriate messaging to students and staff at the conclusion of the drill that the event is a drill and that no current danger exists; does not expose students to content or imaging that is not developmentally or age-appropriate; is paired with trauma-informed approaches to address any student inquiries or concerns which may arise as a result of a school security drill; does not include the use of fake blood, real or prop firearms, or the simulations of gun shots, explosions, or other sounds or visuals that may induce panic or a traumatic response from a student or school district employee; does not require a student to role play as a victim, but may include first aid training in which students participate; and is accessible to students with disabilities and mental health conditions, and provides all necessary accommodations for these students.
The bill as amended provides that a school district would be required to provide written notification to the parent or guardian of a student enrolled in the district following completion of a school security drill. The notification would be provided to the parent or guardian by no later than the end of the school day on which the school security drill is conducted.
The bill provides that a school district may permit emergency personnel access to the buildings and grounds of its schools for school security drills that are scheduled outside of school hours and during such times as students are not present.
Under the bill as amended, a school district must review and update its school security drill procedures using a process that coincides with the review of the school safety and security plan developed pursuant to N.J.A.C.6A:16-5.1 and collects input from emergency personnel, parents and guardians of students enrolled in the district, teachers and staff employed in the district, mental health professionals, and student government representatives from multiple grade levels.
The amended bill also provides that a school district must annually track data on such measures and information as are required by the Commissioner of Education, and report the data to the commissioner.
This bill has now passed both houses and is on the Governor’s desk. NJPSA was able to secure key amendments on this bill that included not notifying parents or guardians in advance of the drill and not permitting emergency personnel access to the ground for school security drills.
A-2300 – This bill concerns the membership of the board of education of a regional school district in which a reapportionment of costs among the constituent municipalities has been determined by the Commissioner of Education, not the voters of the district. Under these circumstances, the regional district will apportion the membership of its board of education based on how the costs of the regional district are apportioned among the constituent municipalities, except that each constituent municipality would have at least one member on the board. Currently, the allocation of seats on a regional district’s board of education is based on the population in each of the constituent municipalities in relation to the total population of all the constituent municipalities making up the regional district, except that each constituent municipality has at least one member on the board. This bill has not passed both houses and is on the Governor’s desk.
S-1790/A-1662 – This bill provides for civil liability of the parent of a minor adjudicated delinquent for cyber-harassment or harassment. Currently, a court may order a parent or guardian of a minor under the age of 16 who has been adjudicated delinquent of cyber-harassment to attend classes or training with the minor. Failure to comply with these conditions results in a disorderly persons offense and the imposition of a fine of not more than $25 for a first offense and not more than $100 for each subsequent offense. The bill would increase the monetary penalty against the parent or guardian for failure to comply with the class or training program as follows: (1) the $25 fine for a first offense would be increased to $100; and (2) the $100 fine for each subsequent offense would be increased to $500. In addition, civil liability may be imposed on a parent or guardian having legal custody of the minor who demonstrates a willful or wanton disregard in the exercise of the supervision and control of a minor adjudicated delinquent of cyber-harassment or harassment.
The bill requires that as part of the information provided by the superintendent of schools twice a year to the board of education regarding acts of violence, vandalism, and bullying which occurred during the previous reporting period, the superintendent will provide the board with information on the number of reports that were determined, pursuant to the district’s preliminary determination process, not to meet the statutory definition of bullying.
Pursuant to the provisions of the bill, the district’s anti-bullying policy must include specific consequences for a student who commits an act of harassment, intimidation or bullying. Under the bill, for the first and second acts of harassment, intimidation, or bullying committed by a student, a copy of the results of the investigation will be placed in the student’s record and the student may be subject to remedial actions, including the provision of counseling or behavioral intervention services, or discipline, or both, as determined by the principal in consultation with appropriate school staff; and for the third and each subsequent act, a copy of the results of the investigation will be placed in the student’s record, and the principal, in consultation with appropriate school staff, will develop an individual student intervention plan which will be approved by the superintendent and may include remedial actions and may require the student, accompanied by a parent or guardian, to complete a class or training program to reduce harassment, intimidation, or bullying behavior
The bill also provides that the written report that is required under current law to be provided to the school principal within two school days of when a school employee or contracted service provider witnessed or received reliable information that a student had been subject to harassment, intimidation, or bullying, must be on a numbered form developed by the NJDOE. The principal will be responsible for promptly submitting a copy of the form to the superintendent of schools. The bill provides that sections 1 and 4 of the bill would take effect immediately. The remaining sections of the bill would take effect on July 1 of the first full school year following the date of enactment, or 180 days following the date of enactment, whichever is later. NJPSA worked with a diverse group of stakeholders to amend several components of this bill.
NJDOE State Board of Education Meeting
The NJ State Board of Education met on Wednesday, January 5th, 2022. In their first meeting of the new calendar year, the State Board of Education had a full agenda. The NJDOE presented data on the “Start Strong” assessments administered in the fall. The results were not unexpected, nonetheless, troubled the Board. The biggest challenges were seen in younger grades, and the math scores were especially concerning. As many as half of students in some groups are not at grade-level proficiency. The data collected from the assessments showed that about half of all New Jersey students in grades 4 through 6 began this school year requiring “strong” support to meet grade level proficiency in math. More than 60% of students enrolled in Algebra 1 may have fallen behind. English and Language Arts were not unscathed, with approximately one-third of high school freshmen expecting to need substantial help in English and Language Arts.
The State Board also had another lengthy discussion about “cut scores” for the new 11th grade test (which will be administered to high school juniors for the first time in the Spring). The NJDOE has proposed that the passing (“cut”) score should be set at 725. Some members of the State Board have argued that is not high enough and we need to set a higher standard. Others have indicated that they support 725 at this time, given that it is the first time this test is being administered, and we are still in the throes of the pandemic. After an extended discussion, the Board ultimately tabled their vote until the February meeting, and requested language be included in the Resolution for next month that gives them the authority to review the data from this first test and revise the cut score for next year if they feel it is warranted.
Both the Senate and the General Assembly are scheduled to have voting sessions on Monday, January 10th. This will be the final votes of the 2020/2021 Legislative Session. The current Legislative Session ends at 12 Noon on Tuesday, January 11th. That same day, the new Legislature will be sworn in and the new 2022/2023 Legislative Session will begin. Also on Tuesday, January 11th, the Governor will address the state at 5 PM to deliver his State of the State address. Because of ongoing COVID concerns, the State of the State will be virtual again this year. It will be pre-taped and will be broadcast by News12 New Jersey and NJ Spotlight News on NJ PBS, as well as live streamed via the governor’s official Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages. You can certainly expect a very busy few days next week as one Legislative Session ends and another begins. The Governor is likely to act on a tsunami of bills that will be sent to his desk.
Your NJPSA Government Relations team will keep you posted on all the relevant developments. In the meantime, if you have any questions, or would like additional information on any of these topics, please do not hesitate to reach out to NJPSA Director of Government Relations Debbie Bradley email@example.com or Assistant Director Jennie Lamon firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for tuning in to what is happening in and around Trenton!