Education Law Update – Gov. Murphy Signs Several Bills into Law

Education Law Update – Gov. Murphy Signs Several Bills into Law

Gov. Phil Murphy took action on several education bills in recent weeks...

Gov. Phil Murphy took action on several education bills in recent weeks. The legislation signed into law addresses issues ranging from school nurse shortages to school bus driver safety. Gov. Murphy also issued conditional vetoes on some closely-watched bills, including legislation to establish a special education unit within the Office of Administrative Law.

Education Legislation Signed into Law

Below is a brief summary of several bills Gov. Murphy signed into law:

  • Rehiring of Retired School Nurses: The new law (A-4544/S-3150) will permit a certified school nurse who retired from the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund (TPAF) to return to work full time as a certified school nurse with a board of education without being reenrolled in the TPAF. If the retired school nurse returns to work with the former employer, it must occur more than 180 days after the retirement. Nurses can return to work under a contract for one year, which may be renewed only for one additional year. Under the law, retired school nurses who return are authorized to receive the TPAF retirement allowance as well as a salary.
  • Suicide Prevention Info on School ID Cards: The new law (S-550/A-1616) requires public schools that include any of the grades 7 through 12 that issue student identification cards to include the telephone number for the New Jersey Suicide Prevention Hopeline (NJ Hopeline). Schools may, in addition to the NJ Hopeline, provide contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, an on-campus crisis center, or any other mental health support service. The provisions of the new law will take effect in the first full school year or in the first full academic year following the date of enactment, which will be the 2022-2023 school year.
  • School Bus Safety: Under the new law (A-5817/S-3852),a board of education or school bus contractor may be held responsible if they approve or assign an individual, as a driver or substitute driver of a school bus, without first complying with the provisions of law concerning the training, certification, and criminal history record checks of school bus drivers. The law also increases the fines associated with such an action from not more than $5,000 for each offense to not more than $5,000 for the first offense, not more than $10,000 for the second offense, and not more than $15,000 for a third and each subsequent offense. Additionally, the law clarifies that it will not be a defense to avoid liability that a board of education or contractor unknowingly failed to comply with the provisions of law concerning the training, certification, and criminal history record checks of school bus drivers.
  • Debarment of Bus Contractors: The new law (A-5818/S-3849) requires the Department of Education (DOE) to provide for the debarment of certain persons from bidding on pupil transportation contracts. Causes for debarment include, but are not limited to: failing to comply with laws pertaining to the qualification of school bus drivers and school bus inspections; the commission of a criminal offense as an incident to obtaining, attempting to obtain, or performing a public or private contract/subcontract; the commission of a criminal offense that includes child abuse or sexual misconduct involving a child; knowingly submitting a bid for a pupil transportation contract that fails to identify each person who has any ownership interest in the company and that would have included a person debarred from bidding on a pupil transportation contract; and debarment by some other department or agency. The DOE must send written notice to a person subject to debarment; thereafter, a person has 30 days from the date that the written notice of debarment is received to challenge the cause for debarment to the Commissioner of Education. If no challenge is filed or if the determination of debarment is upheld, the law requires that notification of the debarment be forwarded to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, each executive county superintendent in the State, and each board of education in the State. Notification of the debarment must also be posted on the DOE’s Internet website, and a list of persons debarred from bidding on a pupil transportation contract must distributed to each school district and board of education in the State by March 1 of each year. The new law will not become effective until the enactment of separate legislation (S-3851/A-5814) that establishes a school bus safety ombudsman position in the DOE. 
  • Alternative Route to Expedite Certification: The new law (S-3253/A-2619) would require the State Board of Education to authorize an alternate route to expedite the certification of persons to teach grades 7 through 12 at an early college high school and exempts candidates from the requirements governing a Certificate of Eligibility set forth in State Board of Education regulations.  The alternate route will consist of a three-tiered certificate program, similar to the alternate route provided for teachers at charter schools in the State. Under the law, such certification under the early college high school alternate route may be used only for employment at an early college high school and will not be permitted to satisfy the requirements for employment in any other public school.
  • Military Impact Aid: The new law (S-3948/A-5896) establishes an additional category of State school aid known as military impact aid.  A school district would be eligible for this category of aid if it received a Basic Support Payment of federal Impact Aid in the prior fiscal year and the district provides free public education to federally connected children whose parents are on active duty in the uniformed services.  The federal Impact Aid Program provides financial assistance to school districts that include within their boundaries parcels of land owned by the federal government or that are exempt from local taxation by the federal government.  Part of the federal Impact Aid Program, which is authorized under Section 7003 of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, provides for Basic Support Payments that help school districts that educate federally connected children, including the children of members of the uniformed services. To determine the amount of aid a district would receive under the law, a per pupil general fund tax levy amount would be calculated by dividing the prior fiscal year general fund tax levy by resident enrollment, without the inclusion of federally connected children whose parents are on active duty in the uniformed services. A per pupil federal impact aid amount would also be calculated by dividing the amount of a school district’s Basic Support Payment received in the prior fiscal year by the number of federally connected children whose parents are on active duty in the uniformed services. The difference between these two per pupil amounts would then be multiplied by the number of federally connected children whose parents are on active duty in the uniformed services. If the difference is calculated as negative, then a school district would not receive military impact aid. 

Education Bills Subject to Conditional Veto

Gov. Murphy also issued conditional vetoes with regard to several education measures. Most notably, the Governor conditionally vetoed S-2160/A-5701, which would establish a special education unit within the Office of Administrative Law (OAL). According to his veto statement, Gov. Murphy supports the creation of a special education unit within OAL, to which all contested cases referred to the OAL concerning special education law would be assigned and adjudicated by the judges in the unit, all of whom would have expertise in special education law. However, he raised concerns that the OAL will require a significant increase in staffing levels to operate the new unit and recommended revisions to delay the bill’s effective date to coincide with the appointment and confirmation of a minimum of fifteen new Administrative Law Judges and the necessary support personnel.

Gov. Murphy also issued a conditional veto in response to legislation (S-3488/A-5537) that modifies certain procedures pertaining to school district regionalization, establishes a grant program to reimburse districts for the costs associated with conducting regionalization feasibility studies, and provides financial incentives for regionalization. In relevant part, the bill also delineates the voting rights of constituent districts that belong to a limited-purpose regional school district but opposed the formation of an all-purpose regional school district. Gov. Murphy specifically objected to  provisions of the bill that would establish voting rights for sending district board members that differ from the rights that are already dictated by statute. “In order to avoid the inevitable confusion that will result from two different standards governing the same circumstances, I am recommending modest revisions to this bill to ensure that the voting rights established for sending district board members remain consistent,” he said in his veto statement.  

If you have legal concerns related to the new laws and how they may impact your school district, we encourage you to contact a member of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s Education Law Group at 201-896-4100.

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