Legislative Roundup: Education bills advance

A series of bills addressing a variety of education issues in the state are making their way through the Legislature.

The Senate Education Committee advanced a bill Thursday co-sponsored in the Assembly by Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, to help provide greater financial stability for school districts on military bases or other operations controlled by the federal government.

The legislation authorizes a school district that receives federal impact aid to establish a reserve account. School districts in which military bases or federal public housing are located are likely to receive federal impact aid because they cannot raise as much in property taxes for education.

The measure gained approval from the full Assembly in September and now awaits final action by the full Senate.

The Assembly Thursday approved a separate bill co-sponsored by Pamela Lampitt, D-Camden, and Gabriela Mosquera, D-Camden, to allow students with disabilities to bring service animals onto school buses in New Jersey.

Current law only permits such students to enter classrooms and school grounds with service animals.

The Assembly Thursday approved seven more bills that are part of a larger 20-bill package aimed at addressing factors saddling more and more New Jersey students with debt and without a college degree.

The package, co-sponsored by Assembly members John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, and Celeste Riley, D-Cumberland, deals with data collection, accountability, pathways to success and the most cost-effective manner to complete a degree.

One bill requires independent colleges, like public colleges, to report certain consumer information on their websites, including costs, graduation rates, and faculty information. Another requires county colleges to develop a plan to achieve a three-year graduation rate of at least 33 percent for full-time degree-program students.

Legislation co-sponsored by Singleton, Lampitt and Riley to boost breakfast programs in schools became law Thursday. The new law requires the state to make every effort to assist school districts and non-public schools in increasing the participation rate of students, particularly low-income students, in the federal School Breakfast Program by establishing “breakfast after the bell” in the first-period classroom or during the first few minutes of the day.

Agricultural aid

Legislation sponsored by Burzichelli and Riley to facilitate operations for the agriculture industry passed the Assembly Thursday.

The bill amends current law to exempt certain temporary farm structures from permit and transition area requirements under the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act of 1987. The installation of temporary farm structures, including hoophouses and polyhouses, would be categorized as normal farming activity and thus exempt from the state law, as are plowing, seeding and cultivating land.

Berry harvest relief

Legislation sponsored by Riley and Assemblyman Gilbert L. “Whip” Wilson, D-Camden, that eases some of the cost burdens for cranberry and blueberry harvesters in New Jersey passed the full Assembly Thursday.

The bill designates agricultural fields, such as blueberry fields and cranberry bogs, as active if any combination of crop production, maintenance, or renovation has taken place within five years.

This move reduces costs associated with New Jersey’s stringent environmental standards for anyone wishing to restart cranberry or blueberry operations on an existing field.

Veterans transport

Sen. Jim Beach, D-Camden, joined other elected officials and members of the Samost Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Southern New Jersey for a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday for the organization’s new Take the Wheel program.

A veteran-to-veteran transportation service, the program has veteran volunteers assisting other veterans by driving them to medical appointments.

New Jersey has more than 472,000 veterans, with over 33,000 in Camden County alone. They range in age from their 20s to their 90s.

The challenges that they face are as diverse as their ages and time of their service, according to JFCS, and many struggle due to physical impediments, mental challenges and poverty.

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