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Education Legislation: It’s Not Just About School Funding

Bills advancing in the State House address a variety of issues, from recess, seatbelts, and sexual abuse to helping private schools meet payroll for STEM teachers

Sweeney
Senate President Steve Sweeney and clerk of the Senate, waiting as staff gets bills together for votes

The fate of school funding in the budget standoff may be the topic du jour for New Jersey’s school districts, but there are a few other bills advancing in the State House that could also have a lasting impact.

It’s a varied list. One longstanding bill mandates daily recess for all elementary schools; another stipulates new seatbelt rules for school buses after last month’s fatal accident; and yet another closes some loopholes concerning sexual abuse in schools.

And while lawmakers argue about state aid to public schools, one bill advancing will send millions to private schools to help them hire math and science teachers.

Here are some highlights:

Recess for all: Not that it isn’t a staple already, but elementary schools could soon be required to provide at least 20 minutes of recess a day, preferably outdoors. The bill — sponsored by state Sens. Patrick Diegnan and Shirley Turner — was first proposed three years ago in reaction to mounting worries that students were not exercising and playing enough. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics to that effect made the case.

The bill went through a variety of iterations and amendments, including whether and how recess can be withheld for disciplinary reasons. It passed the Assembly yesterday with no dissenting votes.

Shoulder seatbelts for all: This one came quickly, largely in response to the school bus accident on I-80 last month that killed a Paramus middle school student and her teacher, as well as injured dozens of others.

The state currently requires seatbelts on all schools buses, but this one stipulates that those belts must include a shoulder strap in addition to a lap belt. The bill yesterday passed the Senate 38-0, and next moves to the governor’s desk.

Sexual abuse for none: This one also came out of the news, a hidden-camera confession from a local union official who said he would protect a teacher who abused a student. Legislators from both sides of the aisle reacted, and a package of bills were moved to close loopholes that protected teachers.

The one that passed the Senate yesterday would step up the penalties, including potential loss of license, for educators who fail to report suspicions about sexual abuse. The measure passed the Senate yesterday, 36-0.

Aid for private schools: And while the attention in Trenton is mostly focused on how much aid the state will award to public schools, a bill that would help out private schools has also advanced quietly.

The measure, sponsored by state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), would allot grants to reimburse private schools for the salaries of science, technology, and math teachers. That has been a big challenge for public schools, too, but this bill would help their private-school peers.

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