Legislature Turns Out the Lights with Key Education Issues Still To Come

John Mooney | January 14, 2014 | Education
Session ends with votes on a half-dozen school bills and Christie veto on kindergarten task force

With the big issues put aside for now, a smattering of education bills saw their final action of the legislative session that effectively ended yesterday.

Several bills affecting contracts and instruction are now headed to the governor’s desk, and at least one notable bill has already been booted back to state lawmakers.

Gov. Chris Christie announced midday that he vetoed a bill that would have created a 21-member state task force to explore universal all-day kindergarten in New Jersey.

It’s not a new idea, as discussions have taken place off and on for years to whether to require all-day kindergarten in a state where about a quarter of districts still don’t provide it.

But Christie issued an absolute veto of the bill, calling it “redundant” in light of what he said were the state Department of Education’s ongoing efforts to help districts in developing such programs, which he said should remain a local prerogative.

“In light of the work currently carried out by the Division of Early Childhood Education, the contemplated purpose of the sizable task force created by this bill would be redundant,” Christie wrote.

“Further, while the Department of Education is ready, willing, and able to assist districts in implementing a full-day program,” he wrote, “the decision of whether to offer a full-day program should reside with local boards of education and their constituents.”

The bill had strong, bipartisan support in both the Assembly and Senate, and its sponsors said they would try again in the next session. A little-night attempt to override the veto fell eight votes short in the Assembly.

“If not tonight, I’ll (file) it again first thing in the new session,” state Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex), one of the prime sponsors said last night.

The kindergarten proposal was one of more than a half-dozen education bills that saw action in the last week, as the Legislature wound down its session and prepared for a new one to start today. Some final votes were expected to be taken this morning to officially end the session.

Still, for all the action yesterday – both chambers acted on close to 200 bills – the lame duck session ended with little, if any, progress on the major issues of debate in New Jersey education these days.

Among the bills still pending and sure to see debate in the next session are those related to rewriting the state’s charter school law, and another that proposes delays in new state testing and curriculum requirements.

Other education bills that passed and now head to Christie’s desk include the following:

  • Legislation that would allow negotiation of teacher salaries spanning up to five years, extending the current three-year limit (A-3791);
  • A bill that would require panic buttons and silent alarms in schools for use in case of emergencies (A-3691);
  • The last of a package of bills dealing with dyslexia, this one requiring schools — by first grade — to screen children with reading difficulties for dyslexia or other disorders (S-2442);
  • A bill creating an Office of Dropout Prevention (S-134);
  • Legislation requiring instruction in middle schools on responsible social media use (A-3292);
  • A bill that would make cyber-harassment a crime, including in schools and among students (S-2469)
  • Among a flurry of bill signings yesterday, Christie enacted into law a new restriction pushed by special education advocates that bars school districts from giving school superintendents pay bonuses based on their placements of special needs students. The bill (A-3997) came out of reports that at least one district gave its superintendent a bonus for reducing the number of special-needs students placed outside the district.