Legislative Update: Senate Education Committee Advances Teacher Diversity Bill Package

Legislative Update: Senate Education Committee Advances Teacher Diversity Bill Package

The Senate Education recently advanced eight bills that will impact New Jersey school districts if they are enacted in law. The legislative package, introduced by Senate Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz, aims to increase diversity among the state’s teachers.

“During our hearing on teacher diversity, we heard from countless educators and advocates on the challenges that prevent aspiring teachers of color from gaining their certification and current teachers of color from remaining in their positions. They brought forth numerous factors contributing to the jarring fact that roughly one in 163,000 students in the state never see a classroom leader of color during their time in school,” Senator Ruiz said in a press statement. “This bill package represents a comprehensive approach to addressing those issues, improving our pathways to certification and fostering more inclusive professional environments to help ensure our educators reflect the diversity we see in our classrooms and our communities.”

Below is a brief summary of the legislation advanced by the Senate Education Committee:

  • Senate Bill 2825: The bill would establish a loan redemption program for certain bilingual education teachers. Under the bill, a program participant must be a resident of New Jersey and execute a contract with the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (authority). The authority would give priority under the program to teachers who are employed at a low-performing public school, including a charter school or a renaissance school. The redemption of loans under the program would equal 25 percent of the participant’s eligible student loan expenses, up to $5,000, in return for each consecutive year of full-time employment as a teacher who teaches in a bilingual education or English as a second language program at a public school in which at least 10 percent of the students are enrolled in a bilingual education or English as a second language program. The total amount of eligible student loan expenses that would be redeemed under the program by a program participant, for four full school years of service, would not exceed $20,000. A program participant would not be required to teach at the same public school for four consecutive years.
  • Senate Bill 2826: The bill would require the State Board of Education to establish procedures for the issuance of a limited certificate of eligibility for certain teacher candidates. Individuals would be eligible for a certificate of eligibility with advanced standing (CEAS) if they do not meet one of the following requirements: the minimum GPA requirement, and all other alternative grade point average requirements and exceptions; or the requirement to achieve a minimum passing score on an appropriate State test of subject matter knowledge (Praxis II) and any related alternative requirements or exceptions. Individuals would be eligible for a limited certificate of eligibility (CE) if they do not meet one of the following requirements: any requirement to complete a minimum number of subject area course credits; the minimum GPA requirement; the requirement to achieve a minimum score on a Commissioner of Education-approved test of basic reading, writing, and mathematical skills (Praxis Core) and all other alternative basic skills requirements or exceptions; or the requirement to achieve a minimum passing score on an appropriate State test of subject matter knowledge. Following two effective or highly effective evaluations, the teacher would be eligible for a standard instructional certificate.
  • Senate Bill 2827: The bill would require teachers to biennially complete two hours of professional development related to cultural competency. The instruction would include personal and interpersonal awareness and sensitivities, acts of microaggression in the classroom, and implicit bias.
  • Senate Bill 2829: The bill would establish the “Male Teachers of Color Mentorship Pilot Program” and appropriate $50,000 to fund the program. The Commissioner of Education would select one or more senior public institutions of higher education, which offer educator preparation programs, and one or more school districts that each employ at least one male teacher of color to participate in the pilot program.
  • Senate Bill 2830: The bill would require educator preparation programs to report passing rates of students who complete certain tests and to disseminate information on test fee waiver programs. The bill would also permit the collection of a student fee for certain testing costs.
  • Senate Bill 2833: The bill would establish a Teacher Apprenticeship Program, the purpose of which is to offer stipends and provide program participants with the education and field experience necessary to obtain a New Jersey certificate of eligibility with advanced standing (CEAS), a credential that allows an individual to seek and accept employment as a teacher in a public school. The Teacher Apprenticeship Program would be open to public high school students entering grade 12 and paraprofessionals with an associate degree who are employed in a public school and meet certain eligibility criteria. Under the bill, a public school and institution of higher education chosen by the Department of Education to offer the Teacher Apprenticeship Program would jointly enter into an agreement with the department in which the public school and institution of higher education agree to provide program participants with the education and field experience necessary to obtain a CEAS.
  • Senate Bill 2834: The bill would mandate training on culturally responsive teaching for all candidates for a teaching certification beginning with the 2021-2022 school year. The legislation 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.
  • Senate Bill 2835: The bill would require the compilation of data and the issuance of an annual report on the teacher workforce, including the number of vacant positions, new positions, eliminated positions, and anticipated retirements. The information will 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.

What’s Next?

Several of the bills have been transferred to additional Senate committees for further consideration. The bills, several of which have companions in the Assembly, must advance there as well. We are closely monitoring this process and encourage school administrators to check back for updates. If you have questions about the proposed legislation and how it may impact your school district, we encourage you to contact a member of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s Education Law Group.

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