Hot-Button Issues for NJ's Public Schools - Fall 2018
School is in session, and so is the New Jersey State Legislature. In fact, as busy as we’ve been setting up our districts for a new school year, it seems the folks in Trenton have been even busier. So much has transpired since our video of August 28 that we’re eager to share important updates. As the organization that supports school leaders, NJASA keeps its finger on the pulse of public education in New Jersey. Here are the latest issues as we went to press on September 17, 2018.
Look for Proposed Bond on November Ballot
The state will be placing a $500 million school bond referendum on the November ballot — a compromise from the $1 billion originally proposed. If voters approve the bond, it would support: $350 million — career-technical education and school security in K-12 schools; $50 million — county colleges; and $100 million — school district water infrastructure projects.
Tragedy Spurs Action on School Bus Safety
The fatal Paramus school bus incident earlier this year has prompted a flurry of legislative action to address school bus safety concerns. A new law signed by Governor Murphy requires school buses to have shoulder restraints as part of their seatbelts. This boost in safety comes at a cost — of about $7.5 to $10 million a year. In addition, the Senate Transportation Committee approved a bill that requires suspension of a school bus driver’s license after a certain number of moving violations. It heads to the full Senate next for review. Finally, a series of other bills sought to make bus drivers more accountable. These included thorough investigations of school bus safety, proof of driver physical fitness, and designation and training of school safety personnel. Stay tuned.
Segregation Lawsuit Could Have Far-Reaching Implications
A recent lawsuit claims that New Jersey schools are segregated. Since students attend the school nearest their homes, they tend to be similar in race, culture and economic status. The Murphy administration has agreed to begin negotiations in this civil suit. This could have an impact on whether parents will be able to send their child to the local neighborhood school. In other states, students spend as much as 45 minutes on a bus to attend school.
Is Regionalization Best for the Students?
Senate President Sweeney is calling for a significant regionalization of all New Jersey school districts. If his plan, Path to Progress, advances, New Jersey would have only K-12 school districts. Currently, the plan recommends merging all K-4, K-5, K-6, K-8, and K-9 school districts into K-12 regional districts and establishing two countywide school district pilot programs. Senator Sweeney will be hosting informal meetings regionally with the NJASA membership and his staff to exchange ideas and discuss related issues. NJASA will support regionalization if it’s in the best interest of the students, but this is a decision best made at the local level.
Stalled on State Assessment
By this time, PARCC testing was supposed to be history. However, rather than voting it out, the New Jersey State Board of Education (NJSBOE) at its September 12th meeting asked to delay the vote until its October meeting. That could mean there weren’t enough votes against PARCC, and Governor Murphy was being cautious.
A joint meeting of the Senate/Assembly Education Committees on September 17th with NJDOE Commissioner Repollet and the Department's Senior Staff explored having the Legislature lead the assessment discussion and move to a finalized program rather than transition only away from high school assessments as an interim step. NJASA anticipates the eventual removal of PARCC, and the transition to the next generation of state assessment. The proposed changes include:
- Streamlining graduation requirements by reducing the number of required tests in high school from six to two;
- Ensuring that educators and parents receive test data in a timely manner; and
- Providing flexibility for first-year English learners on the English language proficiency test.
Daily Recess Put on Hold
A new law requiring mandatory recess will go into effect a year later than originally announced. The law specifies at least 20 minutes of unstructured playtime daily for K-5 students. Districts now have additional time to adjust their schedules. The mandatory recess law will take effect in the 2019-20 school year.
In closing, I recommend you take a few minutes to read an excellent article in this issue of On Target. Titled, Lessons Learned Along the Way..., authored by Dr. Janet L. Fike, NJASA Treasurer, and Chief Education Officer, Morris-Union Jointure Commission.