TRENTON — Lawmakers want to create a pilot program that would allow school districts to partner with county colleges to create criminal justice career academy programs.

The program would give high school students the chance to earn college credit and access hands-on learning experiences in the fields of criminal justice and law enforcement.

Debbie Bradley, of the New Jersey Principal Supervisor's Association, said her group is excited about the bill. Recently the association participated in a focus group conducted by the dual enrollment study commission that his legislation established.

They're talking about dual enrollment and early college programs and the types of challenges districts face in establishing these programs, the cost of the programs, and the types of innovative programs that are going on around the state, she said.

A school district seeking to participate in the pilot program would have to submit an application to the commissioner of education. The application must include a detailed plan outlining the coursework that will be completed by the student taking part in the criminal justice career academy.

It must also detail existing partnerships with county colleges to provide college-level courses in criminal justice to academy students or to provide college credits. Details on any partnerships formed with local law enforcement agencies or community organizations must also be included as well as a description of the hands-on student learning experiences that will be incorporated into the coursework.

Once the pilot program is completed, there must be a plan submitted for the continuation of the career academy, as well.

Bradley had two recommendations regarding the bill.

One is to consider expanding this program beyond the community college level to allow four-year institutions to potentially participate in this because they may offer criminal justice programs that are helpful to students.

Second, the bill uses the term "early college." But she suggested adding the term "dual enrollment" because dual enrollment programs may be offered at the high school itself.

"The bill talks about things like internships. If we're talking about law enforcement internships, there may be some issues with students actually going in the field with a law enforcement officer," Bradley said.

She noted that high schools do address this issue through dual enrollment programs right now by having school resource officers (SROs) and other law enforcement who work in schools do simulations at the high school campus, to still provide those opportunities for students who may not be available if it means working directly in a police station.

Upon review of the applications submitted, the commissioner may select at least one school district in each New Jersey county, which has at least one municipality with a resident population of over 75,000.

The bill introduced by state Sens. Sandra B. Cunningham, D-Hudson, and Nellie Pou, D-Bergen,
is being considered by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

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