TRENTON – Ten years after New Jersey passed a law requiring public employees to live in the state, teachers and other school employees might get exempted.

It is already possible to be granted an exemption by a review committee on a case-by-case basis, but legislation advanced Thursday by the Senate Education Committee would eliminate the requirement for all public-school employees, at least for the next three years.

The change is being considered because of staffing shortages that are posing increasing problems for school districts amid the burnout of the COVID-19 era.

Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, said New Jersey has long had shortages of bilingual, special education, math and science teachers but that it’s now larger than that and merits a response.

“And it’s not that we want to not have New Jersey first because I think all of us here want that,” said Ruiz, who was among the co-sponsors of the 2011 law. “But the thing is in this case, it can’t be at the detriment of our students.”

The greatest challenge facing school administrators right now is staffing, said Debra Bradley, director of government relations for the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.

She said it is “putting operations at risk,” adding that two school districts last week couldn’t open for in-person learning due to a shortage of available teachers.

“Staffing shortages are a daily occurrence, and the scope of the shortage works across the spectrum of school employees from educational positions to hallways monitors to bus drivers to lunchroom staff,” Bradley said.

Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Warren, said the proposed change will increase the applicant pool for school positions and make it easier for people to do a job that they love.

“People who represent districts that are on the state border, it’s really a problem,” said Doherty, who voted for the 2011 law. “We have the Delaware River as the western border, and so we have a lot of folks that traditionally have lived in Easton and Pennsylvania. And it’s tough to recruit.”

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Ruiz said the bill will be amended before it is approved to apply only for three years as a pilot program. Any teachers who start during that time will be grandfathered in, if the exemption lapses, she said.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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