A package of bills aimed at reducing the teacher shortage were introduced in May, but many are still lingering in the Legislature. (Daniella Hemninghaus)
While New Jersey schools grapple with a shortage of teachers, the Legislature failed before its summer recess to advance several bills aimed at attracting new educators, expediting some certifications, and doing away with fees and testing that critics say create barriers to the profession.
With the Legislature not set to return to Trenton until the fall, none of these measures will make it to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk until after the next school year starts, raising fears among supporters of the bill that the state’s teacher shortage will worsen.
One of those bills would have temporarily lifted the requirement for teachers to live in the Garden State. The state Senate passed the bill unanimously last month, but it remains stalled in the Assembly, where it has yet to make it to a committee vote.
Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden), a prime sponsor of the bill, said passing it will be a priority for her when the Legislature returns. When asked why the bill hasn’t advanced in her chamber, Lampitt said it needs more support from lawmakers.
“We want to support our schools, but we’re waiting for more support on the bill to keep moving it forward,” she said.
Since 2011, New Jersey teachers and nearly all public employers have been required to live in the state. The law was enacted under then-Gov. Chris Christie, and officials at the time said the mandate would “put our own residents first.”
Under the bill, school districts could ignore the residency requirement for three years, though they would be required to make a “good faith” effort to hire New Jersey residents. After the three-period, state education officials would evaluate the residency requirement and make recommendations to the Legislature. Any out-of-state resident hired during the prior three years would not be required to move to New Jersey.
Steve Baker, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said it strongly supports removing the residency requirement. He noted that districts in neighboring states hire New Jersey educators.
“At a time when we have a shortage of teachers and other essential school personnel, we should be doing everything we can to deepen and widen our pool of potential educators,” he said.
When the pandemic exacerbated a nationwide shortage of educators — teachers felt overburdened and underappreciated, Baker said — lawmakers began considering lifting the requirement and exploring other ways to fill the increasing number of vacancies.
A task force on public school staffing shortages convened by Murphy recommended eliminating the residency requirement, along with other initiatives like programs to convince students to pursue education as a career and a teacher apprenticeship program.
“Especially for school districts that border other states, the residency requirement significantly restricts the recruiting pool for educators,” the task force wrote in its February report.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, New Jersey suffers shortages in science, math, special education, world languages, English as a second language, and career and technical education. The average pay for starting teachers is around $56,000, according to the National Education Association.
Lampitt is also sponsoring several other bills aimed at alleviating the teacher shortage.
A bill introduced in January would require the Department of Education to conduct a study on expanding virtual learning in districts with teacher shortfalls. One she co-sponsored to require the state Board of Education to create an expedited teacher certification path for paraprofessionals advanced out of the Assembly but is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Education Committee. A bill to remove a basic skills test requirement passed in the Assembly but also stalled in the Senate.
Several of these bills are part of a package introduced in May that was drafted with state and local education officials.
Baker said while the state has taken steps to address its teacher shortage, more needs to be done to address the “economics and sustainability of the profession,” he said. He pointed to reducing “bureaucratic paperwork” that pulls educators away from their teaching responsibilities.
“We should be focusing our resources on ensuring we have enough qualified educators so that every New Jersey student in every New Jersey public school gets the in-person instruction that we know is most effective,” he said.
Other bills to address the teacher shortage that did not make it to the governor’s desk before the Legislature’s summer recess include:
- A5425, which would reduce student teaching requirements from two semesters to one.
- A5417, which would allow students to more easily apply county college credits to teacher certification.
- A5418, which would create a state fund to reimburse certification costs for new teachers, or for teachers who want to teach another grade or subject.
- A5420, which would offer a stipend of up to $7,200 per semester for two semesters to college students who are student teaching.
- A5421, which would direct the state Board of Education to create rules to expand the grades and schools that teachers for students with disabilities or bilingual students can work in, rather than limiting them to only elementary school and middle school.
- A3254, which would establish a program within the Department of Education aimed at increasing the ranks of teachers of students with disabilities.
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that student teacher stipends were not included in the final budget.
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