Gov. Chris Christie announced Wednesday that the state would provide $1 million in grants to help schools pay the cost of implementing the new anti-bullying law.
The law was deemed unconstitutional in late January by the state Council on Local Mandates because the state had not provided funds to cover district costs for training and personnel as required under the “State Mandate, State Pay” provision in the New Jersey Constitution. The Allamuchy Township School District in Warren County filed a complaint in August with the council. Legislators have until late March to come up with a solution or the law will be invalidated.
Christie said it was unacceptable to him and and legislators to invalidate the law.
“We are here to affirm our commitment to safe enviroments for children and strong protections from harassment, intimidation and bullying,” Christie said at a press conference in Trenton also attended by sponsors of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, Sen. Diane Allen, R-Burlington, and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, and Steven Goldstein, of the gay rights advocacy group Garden State Equality.
An amended version of the bill including the money for the Bullying Prevention Fund will require full legislative approval, and it is not clear if the proposal would satisfy the Council on Local Mandates.
Christie said the grants would be available for the remainder of the 2011-12 school year, but districts would have to apply to the state Department of Education to receive funds and would have to demonstrate that they had incurred expenses not covered by other funding sources.
John Sweeney, chairman of the Council on Local Mandates said by phone Wednesday that if the amended bill is passed, the legislation could remain in effect. But, he said, if a school district did not think the $1 million was sufficient to cover the costs, they could file a new complaint with the council or ask for a motion to reconsider the law based on the amendment.
“We have no jurisdiction right now,” he said. “It depends on whether or not it gets brought back to us.”
Christie also said he would form a seven-member task force to review the law and assist districts with implementation.
Allen thanked the governor for agreeing to make funds available.
“This law is vital to providing every child in our education system with a safe learning environment,” she said.
Goldstein also said the law is vital to protecting children. He said children who are bullied are more than twice as likely to have thoughts of suicide and cited a 2009 survey that found 85 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students surveyed had been bullied. He thanked legislators for developing a bipartisan solution to save the law.
“It’s nice to see our leaders really put kids first,” he said.
Under the law, schools had to name bullying coordinators in each school, and officials have said that increased awareness of the law has led to more complaints being filed since the law took effect in September. The New Jersey School Boards Association has begun gathering data on district costs for implementing the bill, and Christie said Wednesday the law might need some modifications in the future.
According to the state Department of Education’s annual report on violence in schools, 3,412 incidents of harassment, intimidation or bullying were reported in 2010-11, up from 2,808 in 2009-2010, an increase of about 21 percent.
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