A three-bill legislative package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Wayne DeAngelo, Nancy Pinkin, Patrick Diegnan, Craig Coughlin, Jamel Holley, Angela McKnight and Gary Schaer to provide schools with the financial resources needed to fund security enhancements gained approval from the Assembly on Thursday.
“The thought of a violent attack at an elementary school might have seemed unimaginable before, but it is a harsh reality of the world we live in today,” said DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “Schools have their work cut out for them having to meet demands with limited resources. Creating a safe environment for our children to learn is essential. Providing schools with the resources needed to enhance security measures and make schools safer is an investment worth making.”
The first bill (A-209), sponsored by DeAngelo and Pinkin, would exclude certain increases in school security expenditures from the tax levy cap applicable to school districts. Under current law, school districts may increase their tax levies, with certain exceptions, by no more than two percent relative to the prior budget year. The bill provides that any annual increase in expenditures on school security costs in excess of two percent incurred by a district would be excluded from the limit.
“While fiscal responsibility certainly is important, there’s far too much at stake for schools to make decisions about students’ safety based on cost and not quality,” said Pinkin (D-Middlesex). “This legislation will give school districts the authority to weigh all their options and decide what is best for the children they serve.”
The measure was approved 51-16-6.
The second bill (A-2158), sponsored by Diegnan, Coughlin, Holley and McKnight, would provide that a school district may use its emergency reserve fund to finance school security improvements, including improvements to school facilities. Under current law, a district may only withdraw money from the emergency reserve fund to pay the cost of unanticipated general fund current expense costs.
“Schools today have to contend with threats that in the past were unthinkable,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “If we expect schools to educate our children and keep them safe, then we have to give them the resources to do it.”
The bill also would allow proceeds from bonds issued by the Economic Development Authority to finance the state’s school construction program to be used to fund school facilities projects related to improving school security.
“We cannot afford to put school safety on the back burner,” said Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “This can help schools fund security improvements to ensure a safe learning environment for students. I don’t know a greater emergency need than keeping our children safe.”
“Safety is an integral element of any positive learning environment. Even the very best teachers and textbooks cannot compensate for an unsafe building,” said Holley (D-Union). “This bill will put more resources at the disposal of school districts so that they can provide all students with a safe place to learn.”
“When it comes to the safety of New Jersey’s children, school districts should be able to examine their needs, exercise their judgement and use their funds in the manner that will best benefit students, said McKnight (D-Hudson).
The measure was approved unanimously.
The last bill (A-2689), sponsored by Schaer and called the “Secure Schools for All Children Act,” would establish a state aid program for the provision of security services, equipment or technology to help ensure a safe and secure school environment for students in nonpublic schools.
“All students deserve to be safe regardless of where they go to school,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “The frequency of violent attacks in our schools has been a sobering wake-up call. We cannot predict when the next one will happen, but we can be proactive and give these schools the tools they need so they are better equipped to respond to a threat against students and staff.”
Under the provisions of the bill, the superintendent of schools of each school district where a nonpublic school is located would confer annually with the chief school administrator of the nonpublic school in order to agree upon the security services, equipment, or technology that will be provided to the students of the nonpublic school within the limits of available funds. If the two administrators are unable to agree on the security services, equipment, or technology, then the executive county superintendent would be tasked with making the final determination.
Beginning in the 2016-2017 school year, the maximum amount or state support limit that may be appropriated for the purposes of the bill is $144.42 per nonpublic school student. This amount reflects the average per pupil amount that is provided to public schools for school security. The amount will be increased each school year by the consumer price index. Each year the school district will forward to the Commissioner of Education an estimate of the cost of providing, during the next school year, the security services, equipment, or technology required pursuant to the bill and the number of students attending the nonpublic school located within the district as of the last school day of October of the current school year. The commissioner will provide state aid to the district in an amount equal to the number of nonpublic school students multiplied by the state support limit.
The State Board of Education would be required to promulgate rules to effectuate the bill’s provisions in a manner that comports with the provisions of the state and federal Constitutions. The rules would have to include a list of allowable expenditures for the security services, equipment, and technology to help ensure a safe and secure school environment for nonpublic school students.
The measure was approved unanimously.