NJ lawmakers seek retired teachers to fill in amid staffing shortage due to COVID-19

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New Jersey lawmakers on Monday advanced an assembly bill introduced in May 2021 that would allow retired teachers to work amid staffing shortages.

The Assembly Education Committee advanced the bill, A5576, allowing those “retired from the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund (TPAF) to return to work full time with a board of education in a position of critical need.” Retirees would be able to collect pensions and salaries simultaneously.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented our schools with many challenges, including significant teacher and staff shortages in districts throughout New Jersey. We cannot allow these gaps in staffing to stand in the way of our students receiving the high-quality education our state is known for,” Democratic Assemblywomen Mila Jasey of Essex and Pamela Lampitt of Burlington said in a Jan. 4 joint statement.

“We must do everything in our power to ensure that our schools are staffed with qualified educators. With this bill we can put our students first by allowing retired teachers and staff members to return to our classrooms and schools without reenrolling in the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund.”

Under the legislation, shools would have to prove they need to hire former teachers who have been retired for at least 180 days for the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years due to staffing shortages, which have been exacerbated due to the spread of the omicron variant.

President Biden visits teacher Allison Hessemer’s pre-kindergarten class at East End Elementary School in North Plainfield, N.J., to highlight the early childhood education proposal in his Build Back Better infrastructure agenda Oct. 25, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The bill now heads to New Jersey Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin’s desk. The New Jersey Assembly and Senate will vote on the bill Jan. 10 before the state’s lame-duck session ends, according to the New Jersey Monitor. 

Jasey told the Monitor that she lives “with a high school teacher who” tells the assemblywoman “every day about the problems in her building and how they’re all taking on additional work and students.”

Jonathan Pushman, director of government relations for the New Jersey School Boards Association, told the outlet that New Jersey schools are facing “a pretty serious staffing shortage crisis right now.”

Children wear masks and wait for President Biden to visit a pre-kindergarten class at East End Elementary School in North Plainfield, N.J., Oct. 25, 2021, to highlight the early childhood education proposal in his Build Back Better infrastructure agenda.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

“It’s only been exacerbated by COVID, and all the folks on this meeting right now are becoming more and more acutely aware of that,” he said, adding later that the bill is “not a silver bullet,” but it could “certainly help.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a similar bill into law in November 2021. That bill, A4544, allows retired school nurses to return to schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

New Jersey had a record-high 37,500 COVID-19 cases reported Dec. 27, or 427 positive cases per 100,000 residents. The state also recorded 14 deaths Dec. 27. On Jan. 2, the last recorded date for confirmed COVID-19 case numbers, the state had nearly 7,000 confirmed cases, or 79 per 100,000 residents. New Jersey recorded less than five deaths Jan. 2.

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