New Jersey has about 93,000 students who are English learners in its 686 operating school districts. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
The New Jersey Legislature is one step closer to eliminating the in-state residency requirement for public school teachers.
A Senate bill (S4203) would make teachers and other district employees exempt from the controversial 2011 law known as the “New Jersey First Act,” which bars nearly all public employees from living out of state unless they get a waiver.
“It’s not that we want to not have New Jersey first. I think all of us want that, but in this case, it can’t be at the detriment of our students,” said state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), who sponsored the 2011 bill and the newer legislation.
The Senate Education Committee advanced the bill unanimously Thursday. If it continues advancing, it would allow districts to hire residents of neighboring states, like Pennsylvania, New York, and Delaware.
The legislation comes in light of major school staffing shortages that have led to at least two schools closing their doors for a day. And New Jersey has long had shortages in math, science, world language departments, and special education instructors.
Debbie Bradley of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association testified that school administrators’ biggest hurdle is staffing. It’s worsened amid the pandemic, she said, as teachers have started to work lunch duty and take on extra responsibilities like contact tracing.
Often, out-of-state residents do apply to jobs open in New Jersey, she said, and are forced to withdraw their applications.
During the committee’s meeting, Ruiz said an amendment will be added to require the Department of Education to file an annual report on the benefits and consequences of the potential law. The measure would expire after three years, and officials would determine then how helpful it was.
Teachers and staff hired during those three years would be protected under a grandfather clause, Ruiz said.
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