1 NEW JERSEY EDUCATION ASSOCIATION Report of the GOVERNMENT RELATIONS COMMITTEE to the DELEGATE ASSEMBLY May 17, 2008 In 2007 NJEA faced what might very well have been some of the most significant legislative challenges in its history. In January, the legislature began consideration of bills drafted to enact most of the 98 recommendations from a report that came out of a special legislative session on property tax reform. Among other things, these recommendations would have threatened our members' retirement security and could have caused involuntary consolidation of our school districts. As a result of the unwavering efforts of NJEA members, the Association successfully emerged from the special session with only minor changes to the pension system which were more than offset by a huge victory in the passage of legislation to guarantee eligible public school employees' premium-free post-retirement medical benefits. This legislation (P.L. 2007, c.103) also established the School Employees Health Benefit Plan (SEHBP) and guarantees NJEA a significant presence on the commission that will govern this plan. NJEA also defeated legislation that would have imposed a 10-year county-wide school district "pilot program" without any formal input from the public or voters; amended legislation to ensure that NJEA members would not be subject to new limits on compensation for unused sick leave; and amended tax reform legislation to exempt certain health insurance costs from a newly imposed 4% cap on school district tax levies. As the special session began to wind down, the FY 2008 budget deliberations began to heat up. NJEA successfully advocated for the largest increase in state aid to schools since $585 million that will benefit both Abbott and non-abbott districts. The Association also worked collaboratively with the New Jersey Council of County Colleges to increase state funding for county colleges by $7.6 million. In the waning weeks of 2007 NJEA found itself center stage in the battle for a new school funding formula. Mter winning key amendments, NJEA leaders, members, and staff spent the week between Christmas and New Years' in the State House lobbying lawmakers to pass the School Funding Reform Act of The bill was voted out of both houses on the very last day ofthe 212 th Session ofthe Legislature. The new law (P.L. 2007, c.260) will incre~se stat~ aid to schools, expand preschool programs, and increase funding for extraordinary special education costs and at-risk students. On January 8,2008 the 213 th Session ofthe New Jersey State Legislature convened. NJEA scored another important victory by successfully promoting passage of a law establishing
2 Paid Family Leave. A struggling economy, rising property taxes, and a looming structural deficit foretell difficult deliberations regarding the FY 2009 State Budget and a challenging year ahead. In the meantime, the following is a comprehensive review of activity during the past year. BILLS SIGNED INTO LAW FY 08 STATE BUDGET (P.L. 2007, c.lll): NJEA supported the FY 2008 budget bill (A 5000/S-3000 (Greenwald, PaynelKenny). The $33.5 billion bill invests almost $10.9 billion in education spending. NJEA supported this budget bill because it: Increases state aid to schools by more than $585 million over last year's budget. This is the largest school aid increase since Both Abbott and non-abbott districts will benefit from this increase. Directs roughly $1 billion into public employee pension funds. Fully funds the premium on school employees' post-retirement medical benefits. Increases aid to county vocational school districts by $1 million. Provides an additional $3.1 million to support Abbott preschool expansion. Directs resources to support non-abbott districts that have full-day kindergartens. Increases transportation aid by $3.2 million. Maintains support for teacher quality mentoring. Increases operational aid to county colleges by $7.6 million and expanding access to higher education through increases in aid to the NJ STARS program, Tuition Aid Grants, and Part-time Tuition Aid Grants. THE SCHOOL FUNDING REFORM ACT OF 2008 (P.L. 2007, c.260): Formerly known as A 500/S-4000 (RobertslBuono), this bill establishes a new system for funding public school districts in New Jersey. NJEA supported this bill because it: Increases state aid to schools by $532 million for ; Expands preschool programs to all districts by investing $310 million over the next six years; Increases funding for extraordinary special education costs; and Increases funding for at-risk students by broadening the definition of"at-risk students" to include students who are eligible for both free- and reduced-price lunches. NJEA won several key amendments to the legislation but will need to continue seeking changes to the new law to ensure that Abbott districts are provided the resources sufficient to maintain programs that have proven to be successful in raising student achievement and in closing achievement gaps. PENSION AND HEALTH BENEFITS LEGISLATION (P.L. 2007, c.103): This new law makes several changes to public employee pension and health benefits plans. It codifies NJEA~s agreement with the Corzine Administration during the Special Legislative Session on Property Tax Reform. Most significantly, this bill guarantees eligible public school employees' premiumfree post-retirement medical benefits. NJEA worked tirelessly with Administration and legislative officials to draft and enact this historic piece of legislation.
3 SCHOOL DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY (P.L. 2007, c.137): This legislation, A-4336 (Stanley, Caraballo), eliminates the New Jersey School Construction Corporation (SCC) and replaces it with the New Jersey Schools Development Authority (NJJDA). The new NJJDA would operate as an independent authority within the Department of Treasury. The bill supported by NJEA, who added substantive amendments, does not authorize any new money for school construction, but is Elnecessary step before the legislature will approve additional funds. DEFINED CONTRmUTION PLAN FOR ELECTED AND APPOINTED OFFICIALS P.L. 2007, c.92): This law was formerly known as S-17 (Codey, Karcher, Pou, O'Toole, Giblin, Van Drew, Greenstein). It implements various recommendations ofjoint Legislative Committee on Public Employee Benefits Reform concerning benefits and certain terms and conditions of public office and employment. As originally drafted there was some concern that the bill's language may have inadvertently put certain future NJEA members in a Defined Contribution Pension Plan rather than the Defined Benefit Pension Plan in which all NJEA members are currently enrolled. The language in the original bill also appeared to cap payment for unused accumulated sick leave at a maximum of $15,000. NJEA worked feverishly to get the bill amended with language clarifying that the provisions of the bill regarding defined contribution plans and caps on accumulated sick leave do not apply to school employees. Once this was clarified, NJEA was neutral on the bill. CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECKS (P.L. 2007, c.82): Formerly known as A-515/S-60 (Bateman, BiondilKavanaugh, Sacco), this legislation permits criminal history record checks for unpaid volunteers in schools and requires applicants to be reimbursed for the costs of such background checks. It also permits the reimbursement of paid school personnel for such costs. NJEA supported this bill. SICK LEAVE BANKS (P.L. 2007, c.223): S-548/A2532 (Smith, PalaialKean, Corodemus, Voss, Gordon), was legislation initiated by NJEA. It makes sick leave banks legal for public school employees. These banks provide employees with protection against the financial injury of catastrophic illness. HIGHWAY RAMPS AND SCHOOL SAFETY LEGISLATION (P.L. 2007, c.308): A-856 (Stanley, Payne, Stack) known as "Terrell's Law" increases the safety of children as they walk to and from school by prohibiting the building of a highway entrance or exit ramp within 1000 feet of a public or private school. NJEA supported this bill. TRANSFER OF COLLEGE CREDITS (P.L. 2007, c.175): A-3968/S-2535 (Lampitt, Diegnan/Rice, Doria) provides for a seamless transfer of academic credits from a completed associate of arts and science degree program to a baccalaureate degree program. This legislation, almost two decades in the making, will provide greater affordability and accessibility for our higher education students. NJEA supported this legislation. SCHOOL BUS INSPECTION (P.L. 2007, c.77): This bill, A-2728/S-328 (Mayer, Chivukula, MoriartylMadden, Sweeney), requires all school bus drivers to inspect their buses at the end of their routes to determine that no child has been left on the vehicle. NJEA supported the legislation.
4 Government Relations Committee Report to the Delegate Assembly May 17, 2008 GANG EDUCATION SEMINARS FOR SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS (P.L. 2007, 188.): A 1973 (Cryan, Stanley, Wisniewski, Johnson, Malone) requires the Office ofattorney General to provide annual gang education seminars for school administrators. NJEA supported the bill. INFORMATION ON HUMAN PAPILLOMA VIRUS (P.L. 2007, e.124): A-3920/S-2286 (Vainieri-Huttle, Voss, Stender, Quigley/(Weinberg, Karcher) requires a public awareness campaign on human papilloma virus (HPV) within school districts to parents and guardians of students in grades seven through twelve starting in the school year. NJEA secured a series of amendments which in subsequent school years would limit the distribution to parents and guardians of seventh graders only. In addition, NJEA was able to amend the bill which originally called for the mandating of HPV vaccinations. ELECTRONIC BULLYING, HARASSMENT, AND INTIMIDATION IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS (P.L. 2007, e.129): S-993 (Buono, Bucco) includes electronic communication in the definition of public school ''harassment, intimidation or bullying." NJEA supported this bill. INFORMATION FOR PARENTS ABOUT SUDDEN CARDIAN DEATH (P.L. 2007, e.125): A-2999/S-332 (Voss, Munoz! Madden) requires the Commissioner of Education, in consultation with the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services, the American Heart Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, to develop a pamphlet that provides information about sudden cardiac death to the parents or guardians of student athletes. NJEA supported this bill. REVISES LAWS CONCERNING HATE CRIMES & BULLYING (P.L. 2007, e.303): S 2975/A-4591 (Bunono, Weinberg/Caraballo, Huttle, Chivukula, McKeon) revises laws concerning hate crimes and bulling, and establishes a commission on bullying in schools. NJEA supported this legislation. GIFTED AND TALENTED STUDENTS MONTH (P.L. 2007, JR 5): AJR-131/SJR-24 (Turner, Watson Coleman, Stanley, Greenstein) designates March of each year as "Gifted and Talented Students Month" in New Jersey. NJEA supported this resolution. AUTISM BILLS (P.L. 2007, e.171): A-4055/S-2558 (Whelan,RobertslWeinberg, Karcher) This bill was introduced with a package of bills intended to address the problem of the rising rates of Autism in the state. NJEA had several concerns about the bill as originally introduced. The original version required all candidates for certification to complete courses in autism awareness, all first year teachers to receive instruction in autism awareness at an institution ofhigher education, and it mandated professional development in autism awareness for all existing teachers. The Association also worked closely with the bill's sponsors to secure significant changes that aligned with NJEA's philosophy of not mandating professional development and putting the onus of autism awareness on the districts instead of the individual teacher or paraprofessional. Beginning next year colleges must incorporate autism awareness instruction into their existing curriculum. The bill also states that NJEA along with the NJDOE will work to develop recommendations for autism awareness instruction and methods for teaching students with autism. NJEA along with NJDOE and the PTSB will develop recommendations to incorporate autism awareness instruction for teachers and paraprofessionals during in-service/or other district training programs. HEALTH BENEFITS COVERAGE AND REIMBURSEMENT FOR ORTHOTIC AND PROSTHETIC APPLIANCES AND PROVIDES REIMBURSEMENT (P.L 2007, c.345): S
5 Government Relations Committee Report to the Delegate Assembly May 17, (Gill) requires various types ofhealth insurance organizations, including the SHBP, to provide health benefits coverage for expenses incurred in obtaining an orthotic or prosthetic appliance at the same rate as reimbursement for such appliances under the federal Medicare reimbursement schedule. NJEA supported this legislation. OPEN PUBLIC MEETINGS (P.L. 2008, C.14): A-690/S-1300 (SpencerlRuiz, Turner) amends the "Open Public Meetings Act" to require boards of education to set aside a portion of every board meeting for public comment. While the public comment would be set at the discretion of the board of education, it would allow for greater public input which often leads to better public policy. NJEA supported this legislation. BILLS SIGNED INTO LAW - MONITORED BY NJEA BURDEN OF PROOF (P.L. 2007, c.331): A-4076/S-2604 (Cryan, Voss/Sweeney, Doria) places the burden of proof and burden of production on school districts in due process hearings conducted to resolve special education issues. CONSOLIDATION OF COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICTS (P.L. 2007, c.222): A-2640/S-460 (Burzichelli/Sweeney, Bryant) would permit the consolidation ofthe boards of education of a county vocation school district and county special services school district into one board. NJEA initially had several serious concerns about this legislation. With the assistance of UniServ and NJEA network attorneys, the Association crafted amendatory language to protect and preserve the rights of NJEA members. This amendatory language was incorporated into the bill making it possible for NJEA to take a neutral position on it. BILLS ON GOVERNOR'S DESK PAID FAMILY LEAVE (S 786/A873 (Sweeny, Buono/Albano, Oliver): This bill creates a sub fund under the state Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) fund which allows workers up to 6 weeks of paid family leave to care for a sick family member or a newborn/adopted child. NJEA worked with the sponsors to obtain an amendment that will allow school employees to use paid sick leave for purposes of this bill should the employer require it (not to exceed two weeks). Under current statute, school employees are only allowed to use sick leave for their own illness. NJEA supports this legislation. BILLS SHOWING MOVEMENT - PENDING ISSUES CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT TO RESTRICT BORROWING (SCR 39 (Lance, Lesniak»: This resolution proposes a constitutional amendment to require voter approval when the State borrows money by issuing State independent authority bonds backed by annual appropriations. NJEA opposes this resolution because, while the Association understands the need to prevent future reckless borrowing, it essentially ties the hands ofthe Legislature and is the wrong response to the State's current fiscal situation.
6 CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECKS (S-473 (Buono»: This legislation would require the Department of Education and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to identify persons who continue to work in school districts despite having been disqualified from employment pursuant to a criminal history record check. NJEA suggested the bill be held and be considered as part oflarger omnibus bill the Association is developing with the Department of Education on the issue of criminal background checks. PENALTIES FOR ILLEGALLY PASSING A SCHOOL BUS (A-2007 (MilalJl, Albano, Wagner»: NJEA initiated this legislation which increases penalties for illegally passing a school bus. DEFIBRILLATOR TRAINING (S-1236 (Singer, Vitale»: This legislation requires all public schools to have external defibrillators and train certain staffto perform cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. NJEA worked with the sponsors to amend the bill to include liability language and a requirement for written medical orders for all schools. NJEA supports the bill as amended. DETERING STEROID USE AMONG STUDENTS (S-752 (Codey,Turner»: This legislation establishes measures to deter steroid use among students. NJEA was successful in its efforts to remove language that would have mandated curriculum. SCHOOL BUS DRIVER APPRECIATION DAY (SJR-19 (Madden»: This resolution designates May 27 of each year as "School Bus Driver Appreciation Day." NJEA supports the joint resolution. CLASSROOM TEMPERATURE BILL (S-709 (Smith»: This bill establishes temperature control guidelines and standards for school facilities. NJEA initiated this bill. SUBSTANCE ABUSE COORDINATORS (S-202 (Singer»: This bill requires each board of education to employ a certain number of substance awareness coordinators. NJEA supports this legislation. DIABETES (A-267 (Vandervalk, Conners, Voss»: This legislation would delegate the training of school employees to assist students who have diabetes. NJEA was able to win some amendments to improve the bill. One serious point of concern still remains - NJEA asserts that no school employee should be asked to administer glucagon to students, because it requires a medical assessment. NJEA will continue to lobby for amendments to address these concerns. SCHOOL ELECTION CHANGES (S-488 (Turner»: This bill provides that school board members in a Type II school district will be elected at the time of the general election in November and will take office at the beginning ofjanuary. The bill also permits boards of education of Type II school districts to determine the annual school budget without the requirement ofvoter approval. These districts will continue to be required to submit proposals for additional funds over their budget cap to the voters for approval; however, the vote on these proposals will also occur in November at the time of the general election. Currently, proposals for additional funding over the cap are required to be set forth on the ballot as separate questions. The bill also does not alter the district's ability to seek voter approval for special appropriations and for capital projects. NJEA testified in opposition to moving the board elections to November arguing that this will politicize board elections. The Association testified in favor ofdistricts budgeting up to cap without seeking voter approval as NJEA has long standing policy advocating this position. NJEA opposes moving the second question to November for voter approval because
7 it doesn't coincide with school districts' budget year, it wreaks havoc on the budget planning process and it could seriously undermine programs that may be affected by the defeat of a second question in November. SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND AWARENESS PROGRAMS (A-462 (Malone, Burzichelli»: NJEA supports this bill which modifies the reference from "substance awareness coordinator" to "student assistance coordinator" in substance abuse and awareness programs in public schools. The proposed change will emphasize the importance of awareness education and better reflect one ofthe primary goals of student assistance programs in our public schools. NEW JERSEY HERO ACT (S-755/A-2083 (Codey,VitalelMcKeon,Jasey»: As originally introduced, NJEA had concerns about this bill which were addressed in amendments. This bill is meant to encourage organ and tissue donation to save and enhance the lives of others. The bill directs the Commissioner of Education to work with Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs) to see that information about organ donation is appropriately addressed through the Core Curriculum Content Standards and not as a separate piece of mandated curriculum. The bill also ties organ donation decision making to certain routine functions connected to the Motor Vehicle Commission. GRADUATION RATE (A-31341S-2388 (CryanIDoria, Palaia»: NJEA opposes this bill which would change requirements for reporting and calculating public high school, district, and statewide drop-out and graduation rates. This law would establish a statutory formula to calculate graduation rates different from that of the formula agreed to by the National Governors Association. In addition, it would exclude those students who graduate via the Special Review Assessment from being considered "on-time graduates." LOAN REDEMPTION FOR TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION (A-591 (Voss, Malone»: NJEA supports this legislation which establishes a loan redemption program for certified technology education teachers. FISCAL HEALTH OF PENSION FUNDS (S-471 (Buono, O'Toole»: This bill requires the State Treasurer and the Director ofthe Division of Pensions and Benefits to report on or before April 15 ofeach year, and the State Treasurer and the Director of the Division of Investment to report on or before December 15 each year, to the Legislature and appear before the Senate Budget Committee, with respect to the current funding obligations ofthe State and other public employers and the financial status ofthe State-administered retirement systems. NJEA supports this bill. HEALTH INSURANCE COVERAGE FOR AUTISM (A-2238 (Prieto, Roberts, Voss»: This bill requires insurance carriers, health hospital and medical service corporations, health maintenance organizations and the State Health Benefits Program to provide health benefits coverage for certain treatments when prescribed as medically necessary by the covered person's physician upon diagnosis of autism. NJEA supports this bill. EXPANDED HEALTH INSURANCE COVERAGE FOR SCREENING FOR OVARIAN CANCER (A-1666 (McHose, Chiusano»: This bill requires various types ofinsurance carriers, including the SHBP, and insurance policies to provide coverage for medically necessary expenses incurred in screening for ovarian cancer for symptomatic women or women at risk of ovarian cancer. NJEA supports this bill.
8 EXPANDED HEALTH INSURANCE COVERAGE FOR MENTAL ILLNESS (S-607/A-2077 (Vitale, Buono/Johnson, Huttle, Greenstein, Diegnan, Evans»: This legislation expands the mental health coverage provisions ofp.l. 1999, c.106 and P.L. 1999, c.441 to require that if a health insurer, including the SHBP, provides coverage for a disorder that is included in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (currently, the DSM-IV) and is not a biologically-based mental illness, the insurer shall provide coverage for that disorder under the same terms and conditions as provided for any other sickness under the policy. NJEA supports this legislation. "GRACE'S LAW" (S-467/A-1571 (Buono, Lance/Cohen, Roberts»: This legislation known as "Grace's Law" would require a variety ofhealth care organizations and insurers to provide coverage for medically necessary expenses incurred in the purchase of a hearing aid for covered children 15 years of age or younger. NJEA supports this bill. BILLS BLOCKED TAX CREDITNOUCHER LEGISLATION (S-13321A-257 (Doria, Martin/Cruz-Perez, Hackett, McKeon»: NJEA opposed this legislation that would establish a $360 million tuition tax credit/voucher program for private and religious schools in New Jersey. The bills would set up a five-year pilot program to allow corporate tax credits for contributions to organizations that would provide scholarships to private schools in Camden, Newark, Orange, and Trenton. (Another bill, S-2228-also proposed by DoriaIMartin-added Elizabeth, Paterson, and Lakewood to the proposal.) These bills would give corporations dollar-for-dollar tax breaks from the State Treasury. This legislation was reintroduced as A-1003 (Cruz-Perez, O'Scanlon, Webber)/S-140 (Lesniak) in the current session but has not moved. CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECKS (A-4337 (Stanley»: legislation revises the criminal history record check process for all public school employees. AGENCY ISSUES SPECIAL REVIEW ASSESSMENT (SRA): NJEA has been working over the past three years to oppose any efforts to eliminate the SRA, the alternative to the HSPA for students who are test phobic, English Language Learners, or have difficulty with test-taking. This year, NJEA has worked with the Department of Education to address concerns about the SRA. This resulted in a proposal to keep the existing SRA in place for and authorize development ofguidelines for a renamed...~ternative High School Assessment (AHSA) in The new AHSA would be similar in content to the current SRA, but with new guidelines for administration and scoring. In February, Vice President Barbara Keshishian testified before the state board of education in support ofthe proposed AHSA. In March, the State Board of Education voted to approve the Department of Education's proposal for the AHSA. NJEA will continue to closely monitor this issue. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND LICENSING CODE, NJAC 6A:9: In December, the State Board of Education approved amendments to NJAC 6A:9, Professional Licensure and Standards. Substitute certificates are now state-wide and valid for five years; in addition, with
9 permission from the county superintendent, substitutes can serve in one position for up to 40 days. The amendments clarify the procedures for mentoring, especially for part-time teachers. Some instructional endorsements now have specific areas of study required, although students already matriculated in a program are grandfathered. All teachers will begin a new five-year cycle for professional development hours in Those teachers hired after will have their hours pro-rated, with no specific annual requirement, unless they enter in the last year of the cycle. The clock for acquiring hours will begin for teachers who hold provisional certificates. Local professional development committees can now have multi-year plans. In addition, district boards of education are supposed to create school-level professional development committees which will oversee school-level plans for professional development by September 1,2008.