Fiscal Year 2012 State Budget: S-4000 (Sarlo)/A-4200 (Greenwald) The FY 2012 budget bill would appropriate a total of $30.6 billion, approximately $1.1 billion more than Governor Christie’s proposed budget. NJEA supported the bill because it:
Increased state aid to schools by more than $1 billion. The former Abbott Districts will receive an additional $447 million and suburban school districts will receive about $660 million over the Governor’s recommended budget.
- Includes the statutorily required one-seventh payment of approximately $505 million toward State pension funds in FY 2012. NJEA did, however, express concern that the amount contributed is still less than what is actuarially required and therefore continues a pattern of significantly underfunding the State’s obligation.
- Funds the employers’ share of Social Security contributions and the premium for public employee post-retirement medical benefits.
- Maintains support for county colleges and increases funding for some tuition assistance programs by roughly $20 million.
The measure passed the Senate by a vote of 24-15 and the Assembly by a vote of 46-32.
Millionaires’ Tax: S-2969 (Lesniak, Norcross, Greenstein)/A-4202 (McKeon, Riley, Spencer, Coutinho) This bill passed both houses of the Legislature with party-line votes, with Democrats voting in favor 46-32 in the Assembly and 24-15 in the Senate. The legislation, known as the “millionaires’ tax,” increases the gross income tax rate on income exceeding $1,000,000 for taxable years 2011 and 2012 and expands the gross income tax exclusion for pensions, annuities and other retirement income for certain taxpayers beginning in 2011. NJEA supported the bill which now goes the governor—who has vetoed such legislation before—and certainly will do so again. Its future will depend on whether the Legislature can override another veto.
Pension and Health Benefits Legislation: S-2937 (Sweeney, Pennacchio)/ A-4133 (Greenwald, O’Scanlon) This legislation was signed by the Governor on June 28 and is now P.L. 2011, c.78. This bill, strongly opposed by NJEA, changes both pensions and health benefits for current and future employees.
Health Benefits: The legislation replaces the 1.5% of salary toward health benefits with premium sharing based on the employee’s salary and level of coverage for all employees. Current retirees would continue to receive premium-free benefits and those with 20 years of service credit as of the effective date of the legislation would receive premium-free benefits upon retirement if they have 25 years of service credit. However, any future retirees with less than 20 years of service credit as of the legislation’s effective date will be subject to premium sharing. The bill also establishes a board that will be responsible for offering a choice of at least three plans in the SEHBP, plus a high deductible health plan, as of January 1, 2012. A companion bill was also signed that amends the bill to prevent any limitations on out-of-state care.
Pensions: For new employees, the law raises the retirement age to 65 requires 30 years of service, and changes the early retirement penalty. The contribution rate for all employees will go to 7.5%: 1% next year, and an additional 1% to be phased in over the next seven years. In addition, the law suspends cost of living adjustments (COLA) until the pension fund hits certain targeted ratios, estimated to be 30 years from now. Current retirees will be frozen with their current COLAs and future retirees will not see COLA increases. The law also is intended to create a legal requirement for the state to make its payments.
More detailed information about the legislation is available at njea.org.
Out-Of-State Health Care: S-2959 (Sweeney, Allen)/A-4162 (Greenwald, O’Scanlon, Chiusano) S-2959 was signed by the Governor on June 28 and is now P.L.2011, c.79. The bill amends S-2937/A-4133, the bill that changes pensions and benefits for public workers. The amendments remove any limitations on out-of-state care by deleting the section of S-2937/A-4133 that limits out-of-state care. NJEA originally opposed the bill but took no position on the amended version.
Full Funding of Aid Formula: S-2970 (Sweeney, Whelan)/A-4203 (Greenwald) This bill passed both houses of the Legislature with party-line votes, with Democrats voting in favor 46-32 in the Assembly and 24-15 in the Senate. This legislation—which is dependent upon the enactment of S-2969/A-4202—would provide state school aid to districts in amounts consistent with the provisions of "the School Funding Reform Act of 2008." This legislation would fully-fund school districts, other than SDA (former Abbott) districts. NJEA supported the bill, which now goes to the governor’s desk.
Improving Accountability of Charter Schools: A-3356 (Coutinho, Jasey). This bill, which passed in the Assembly by a vote of 72-6-0, improves oversight of charter schools. The bill would apply NJQSAC to charter schools, would require students to be selected for a charter school through a lottery, and would require public charter school waiting lists and annual demographic information. Furthermore, the bill would adjust the per pupil tax levy amount that a district of residence must send to a charter school if the district's budget is defeated and the tax levy is reduced. The bill would also establish numerous grounds for revoking a charter and would require disclosure of various private donations and contributions to the school. The bill now moves to the Senate where it has been referred to the Senate Education Committee. NJEA supported the bill with amendments.
Private School to Public Charter School Conversion: A-2806 (Jasey, Coutinho). The Assembly passed this bill, which would permit conversion of nonpublic schools to charter schools, by a vote of 59-14-4. As amended, the bill would limit conversion only to “high performing” private schools in districts designated as “in need of improvement” under NCLB. Upon conversion, a school would be prohibited from religious instruction, events, and activities that promote religious views, and the display of religious symbols. Furthermore, the name of the school would not be allowed to include any religious reference. The commissioner would be directed to establish an expedited process for the review of applications. The bill now moves to the Senate where it has been referred to the Senate Education Committee. NJEA remained neutral on the bill.
Multiple Charter School Authorizers: A-3083 (Jasey, Coutinho, Fuentes, Wolfe) By a vote of 64-8-6, the Assembly passed the bill, which would allow the State Board of Education to approve no more than three public higher education institutions as charter school authorizers. Under current law, the commissioner is the sole entity charged with granting, renewing and revoking charter schools. Under the bill, an institution could become an authorizer if it meets numerous strict quality standards and State Board of Education scrutiny. An approved institution would have the power to approve and to close charter schools, and to provide ongoing monitoring and support. The authorizers must also report to the Legislature and comply with multiple conflicts-of-interest requirements. The bill now goes to the Senate where it has been referred to the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee. NJEA supported the bill.
Community Votes on Charter School Openings/Expansions:
A-3852 (Diegnan, Barnes, Wisniewski, Caputo, Gusciora, Jasey) By a vote of 47-17-14, the Assembly passed this bill, which would require voter approval at the annual school election or by the board of school estimate prior to the opening of a new charter school or the expansion of an existing charter school. The bill now goes to the Senate where has been referred to the Senate Education Committee. NJEA remained neutral on the bill.
Establishes Uniform School Bus Life of 15 Years: A-2260 (Diegnan, Wolfe, Lampitt)/S-1040 (Allen, Turner), which establishes a uniform school bus life of 15 years, passed the Assembly 78-0 and has been sent to the governor for consideration. This legislation is one of many recommendations made by the Commission on Business Efficiency of the Public Schools in its 2006 report “Finding the Road: Selected Issues in New Jersey Pupil Transportation.” NJEA was a member on this commission and supported the legislation.
Medically Recommended Service Animals: A-1718 (Burzichelli, Spencer, Prieto) The Assembly approved a floor amendment to A-1718, which would allow a student with a disability to bring a service animal to school. Under the bill, a school official may inquire about the purpose of the service animal and the task it performs. A school official may also require certification of proper vaccinations, freedom from contagious diseases, and may also require documentation of proper animal licenses. The bill specifies that no school district is liable for the care of the service animal. The Assembly floor amendment clarifies that the school is not obligated to provide a service animal, only to allow access. The bill now awaits a full vote on the Assembly floor. NJEA supports the bill.