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New Jersey’s Residence-Only Law Worries Some Schools

NJ First Act aims to save jobs for residents but could backfire on teachers.

A new law has quietly gone into effect requiring all new public employees to live in New Jersey, and it is already spooking some in the state’s public schools who rely on out-of-state talent.

The full impact of the New Jersey First Act has yet to be felt, since the law enacted this past winter did not apply to those hired before September 1. Most schools got their new hires in the door in late August, with any hiring for next year not likely to start in earnest until spring.

But the state issued guidelines about the new rules to districts earlier this month, and they've started to concern those in districts bordering Pennsylvania and New York, especially those in urban schools that have a hard enough time attracting candidates.

Led by state Assemblyman Donald Norcross (D-Camden), sponsors said the law would help keep New Jersey jobs for New Jersey residents, although they carved out a couple of small exemptions, such as certain university faculty.

Otherwise, the law states that unless a they receive an exemption based on "critical need or hardship," any new state or local employee has a year from hire to move to New Jersey or face removal. Gov. Chris Christie signed the law in January.

Now that the law is in effect, charter schools have so far made the most noise. The TEAM Charter Schools in Newark, for instance, recruit as many as a quarter of their teachers out of New York City, and their director said it will put charter schools in cities like Newark at a disadvantage in trying to attract candidates.

“These are people who devote almost a hundred hours a week to the kids of Newark, and now we’re telling them that they can’t choose where to live?” said Ryan Hill, TEAM’s executive director.

“It’s unbelievably disrespectful of teachers, and will have a profound impact on the quality of our teaching force, as it limits the pool from which we can draw.”

Carlos Perez, president of the state’s charter school association, said the biggest impact is in cities like Camden, Jersey City, and Newark, since schools there and the state itself seeks to build partnerships with New York City or Philadelphia-based organizations.

“As we see charter growth in these cities, we want to be able to attract the best talent to the classrooms as well,” he said.

But it is not just urban schools. Probably a quarter of the staff in Hackettstown in Warren County lives in Pennsylvania, said superintendent Robert Gratz, who himself lives in Bethlehem, PA.

“It wasn’t an issue last year, as we were able to get the new teachers in before September, but it will be going forward,” he said. “Next year, it is going to be a problem. It is certainly going to require us to look more internally.”

He said out of state teachers have always had a disadvantage in New Jersey, with its tough rules on reciprocity. “This is just going to exacerbate it,” he said.

Others weren’t so concerned, at least not yet. John Hannum, superintendent of High Point Regional School District in Sussex County, said he does some hiring from Pennsylvania and New York State.

“Considering where we are located, it could be an issue,” he said. “But I haven’t thought much about it yet. There are so many other issues the governor has gotten us in the middle of.”

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