By: Debra Bradley, Esq. and Jennie Lamon, NJPSA Government Relations
After the passage of the state budget in late June, the Legislature took a break during the summer and campaign season. Immediately following Election Day, the Legislature returned to activity this week. The Senate Committees met in person at the Statehouse in Trenton, although the lower house continues to meet remotely. Several committees, including the Senate Education Committee, had committee hearings on Monday, Nov. 8, and advanced various bills affecting education policy in New Jersey. Following are the bills that had action on Monday.
SENATE EDUCATION COMMITTEE
S-1219 / A-3392 Requires student representative to be appointed to each board of education of any school district that includes a high school.
The student representative would be selected by the student body. In the event that there is more than one high school in the district, the position will rotate among the high schools. That representative shall attend all meetings, present to the board on matters of student concern and provide a monthly report to the student body. The student representative would have no vote and will not be permitted in closed session.
The bill, which has already passed the Assembly, now heads to the full Senate for its consideration.
NJPSA supported the bill after obtaining amendments that require that the student representative will be selected by the student body. The student may be elected or appointed, in a process to be determined by the student body. Additional amendments to the bill include:
(1) provisions that one student representative is the minimum number of student representatives that may be included on a board of education
(2) provisions that, in school districts that include more than one high school, the student representative of the board will rotate each school year among the high schools; and
(3) a new section that applies these provisions to charter schools with grades 9 -12.
S-3094 / A-4856 Requires Internet websites and web services of school districts, charter schools, and renaissance schools to be accessible to persons with disabilities.
This bill establishes accessibility standards for the Internet websites and web services of school districts, charter schools, renaissance schools, and the Marie H. Katzenbach School for the Deaf (“public school”). Specifically, the bill requires that no public school will make available to the enrolled students of the district or school or to the public an Internet website or web service unless the website or web service complies with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA or the most up-to-date version of the guidelines if approved by the Commissioner of Education, or any other applicable guidelines or requirements as may be designated or approved by the commissioner. The WCAG guidelines provide standards through which digital content may be accessible for persons with disabilities. In June 2018, the WCAG 2.1 guidelines were issued to improve accessibility guidance for three major groups: users with cognitive or learning disabilities, users with low vision, and users with disabilities on mobile devices.
Under the bill, the Commissioner of Education would be required to establish a procedure for determining whether an Internet website or web service complies with the WCAG guidelines. The Department of Education would be responsible for issuing certifications of compliance to attest that an Internet website or web service complies with these requirements.
The bill, which passed the Assembly earlier this year, will be heard next by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
NJPSA has concerns about this bill because it does not contain a corresponding appropriation.
S-3129 / A-2300 Requires apportionment of membership on certain regional district boards of education to be based on amount of district costs apportioned to each constituent municipality.
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 was advanced by the Committee with (4) votes in favor of the bill, and (2) opposed. The bill now heads to the Senate floor for consideration by the full Senate.
S-3464 Requires instruction on information literacy in the curriculum of students in grades kindergarten through 12.
This bill, as currently drafted, would require school districts to incorporate instruction on information literacy into the curriculum in each of the grades kindergarten through 12. “Information literacy,” as used in the bill, means a set of skills that enables an individual to recognize when information is needed and to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information. Information literacy includes digital, visual, media, textual, and technological literacy.
This current version of the bill directs the Commissioner of Education, in consultation with the New Jersey State Librarian, to develop curriculum guidelines on information literacy to be used by school districts. The guidelines will provide for a sequential course of study for each of the grades kindergarten through 12.
NJPSA testified in support of the concept of the bill, but recommended that a better approach would be to work on a standard for information literacy that would enable this important issue to be infused throughout the curriculum, since information literacy really is a topic that touches all subject areas. The bill did pass the committee unanimously. However, the sponsor of the bill was present at the committee meeting and indicated that he would be willing to work with the education groups on a different version of this bill after lame duck.
S-3726 Ensures student well-being during school security drills.
Legislation has been introduced by retiring Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Assembly Ed Chairwoman Pam Lampitt. The legislation is part of a package of bills concerning gun safety, but S-3726 is the only bill directly impacting schools in this package. Brady United Against Gun Violence, an organization focused on stopping gun violence in this country is a prime advocate for the entire bill package, which is supported by Governor Phil Murphy.
With respect to S-3726, NJPSA was able to successfully obtain several important amendments to this legislation, but is continuing to pursue additional changes. As amended, the bill seeks to modify current school security drill provisions to limit provisions that would cause anxiety or trauma among students. Specifically, the amended bill would currently require that:
- advance written notice be provided to staff before a drill has been scheduled (NJPSA was successful in eliminating advance written notice to parents prior to the holding of a drill);
- Clear messaging is provided to students and staff that the event is a drill and that there is no current danger;
- The drill does not expose students to content or imaging that is not developmentally appropriate;
- The operation of the drill is paired with trauma-informed approaches to address any student inquiries or concerns which may arise as a result of a school security drill;
- The drill does not include the use of fake blood, real or prop firearms or the simulation s of gunshots, explosions or other sounds or visuals that may induce panic or a traumatic response from a student or school district employee;
- The drill 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, providing all necessary accommodations for these students.
An amendment to the bill does require the district to provide written notification to the parent or guardian following completion of the school security drill no later than the end of the school day on which the drill was conducted. NJPSA also successfully advocated for the elimination of bill language that would have prohibited law enforcement and emergency personnel from being on school grounds during the school security drill. Such a provision violates current New Jersey law and best practice. The bill further requires that districts review and update their security drill procedures every three years after collecting input from emergency personnel, parents, teachers and staff, mental health professionals and student government representatives from multiple grade levels. Annual collection of data on school security drills and reporting of that data to the Commissioner of Education is also required.
The Senate Education Committee voted to release the bill as amended but urged further work with the bill sponsors. NJPSA will continue to pursue additional changes in order to achieve a balanced approach to school security drills in our state.
S-4021 Requires school districts to provide instruction on history and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as part of implementation of New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Social Studies.
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.
Having passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously, this bill now heads to the Senate floor for a vote.
S-4073 Provides supplemental appropriation of $20 million for loan redemption program and tuition reimbursement program for certain teachers of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
NJPSA supports this legislation which provides the appropriations to support the loan redemption program established for teachers of STEM courses, an area where NJPSA members have faced significant teacher shortages in the hiring process.
This bill has now been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
S-4074 Allows alternative evaluation in place of basic skills testing requirements for certain teacher certification.
This bill proposes to eliminate 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 (NJDOE currently uses the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators test as the sole measure of basic skills proficiency).
This bill would allow 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. This bill was released by the Senate Education Committee and is waiting to be considered by the full Senate.
S-4075 Eliminates requirement for three years that school districts receive DOE approval for non-instructional or non-educational school facilities or capital maintenance projects.
NJPSA strongly supports this legislation which resulted from a meeting held this summer with Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senate Education Chair Teresa Ruiz. Both Senate leaders met with the statewide education associations asking how they could help schools in preparing for our students’ return to school in September. One issue that was raised was the long delays in getting even minor facilities projects approved by the NJDOE due to low staffing levels, particularly where an educational component was not even a part of the project (examples: roofs, HVAC projects, window replacements). This legislation would bypass the requirement of NJDOE review for such non-educational projects to expedite such needed repairs.
This bill was advanced by the Committee with (5) votes in favor of the legislation and (1) opposed. The bill now heads to the Senate floor for consideration by the full Senate.
SENATE BUDGET AND APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE
S-2835 Requires compilation of data and issuance of annual reports on New Jersey teacher workforce.
This bill would establish the following reporting requirements concerning the current and projected teacher workforce in New Jersey:
- School districts will annually submit to the New Jersey commissioner of education information for the current school year on teaching positions, (e.g., vacant positions, the number of new teaching positions, the number of positions that were eliminated and anticipated teacher retirements).
- School districts will also annually submit to the commissioner information on public school teacher retention, including the number of and reasons why teachers left employment with the district during the prior school year. The information would show the characteristics of the teachers who left the district, including age, sex, race and tenure status.
- The New Jersey Education to Earnings Data System will issue a report on teacher workforce projections for the state for the following two years. After the issuance of this initial report, the Education to Earnings Data System will issue an annual report on teacher workforce projections for the subsequent three to five years.
- The Executive Leadership Council of the New Jersey Education to Earnings Data System will semiannually report to the Legislature on the progress of the annual teacher workforce projection report.
Having previously been passed by the Senate Education Committee, and now by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, this bill heads to the Senate floor for consideration by the full Senate.
“Lame Duck” (the end of the two year legislative session) is a very busy time of year. A lot of legislation can move at a rapid pace. Your NJPSA Government Relations team will keep you updated every step of the way. If you have any questions or would like to discuss a bill further, please don’t hesitate to contact us at any time: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.