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ARCHIVE FOR JANUARY 2006

INSPECTOR GENERAL'S REVIEW OF SCC DETAILS WEAKNESSES, OFFERS RECOMMENDATIONS (1/5/2006)

On December 21, Inspector General Mary Jane Cooper released a report on the Schools Construction Corporation (SCC), a follow-up to an earlier report released in April 2005.  The December report detailed widespread weaknesses within the SCC’s Design and Construction Division and offered recommendations for repairing and strengthening the organization.

Key deficiencies noted were absence of an overall coordinated plan to build schools efficiently and lack of clearly defined authority and supervision, resulting in a difficult working environment and low employee morale.

The report made numerous recommendations, among them a comprehensive reorganization of the SCC, evaluation of the organization’s needs, better training opportunities, and implementation of an information management system. 

For more on the SCC, including a report on the Supreme Court’s order to the Department of Education to estimate the cost of completing approved school construction projects in Abbott Districts, see the recent development dated 12/22/05.

Related Documents:

Office of the NJ Inspector General:  New Jersey Schools Construction Corporation – Operations Review Report (12/21/2005)

Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial:  A Sad State of Disrepair (1/3/2006)


"QUALITY COUNTS AT 10" REPORTS AVAILABLE FROM EDUCATION WEEK (1/5/2006)

This month, Education Week released “Quality Counts at 10:  A Decade of Standards-Based Education.”  The special issue examines the progress states have made in a core set of policy indicators that relate to standards-based education, combining state reports data with case studies examining trends in the education standards movement.

Each state report contains vital statistics about its schools, a ranking in each of four categories (standards and accountability, efforts to improve teacher quality, school climate, and resource equity), and trends as they relate to state policy.  New Jersey ranks above average in three of the four categories listed, but below average in resource equity.  The reason for this, according to the report, is a “moderate degree of disparity” in per-pupil funding levels across districts in the state.  New Jersey is also reported to have the second-highest average spending level in the nation, $11,031 per student, exceeded only by the District of Columbia.

Related Documents:

Education Week:  Quality Counts at 10:  A Decade of Standards-Based Education (1/4/2006)

New Jersey State Report (1/4/2006)

 



FLORIDA COURT RULES AGAINST VOUCHER PROGRAM (1/6/2006)

On Jan. 5, the Florida Supreme Court struck down that state’s Opportunity Scholarships Program, a voucher program allowing students who attend “failing” public schools to transfer to private schools, with public funding for tuition and other costs.  The court ruled, in Bush v. Holmes, that the state constitution bars the use of taxpayer funds to support private alternatives to the public school system. 

The Court’s ruling was based on the provision of the Florida Constitution requiring that "adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools."  The scholarship program violates this provision, the Court ruled, because it "diverts public dollars into separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools that are the sole means set out in the Constitution for the state to provide for the education of Florida's children…[and] funds private schools that are not 'uniform' when compared with each other or the public system."

The Court did not address an additional claim that the program violates a provision of the state constitution prohibiting the use of the public funds “directly or indirectly in aid of…any sectarian institution.”  That provision had been the basis of a lower court ruling invalidating the voucher program, but the Supreme Court found it unnecessary to reach that issue.

The Opportunity Scholarships Program was a cornerstone of Governor Jeb Bush’s campaign platform, and was approved by the Legislature weeks after Bush took office in 1999.  Governor Bush has said that the state will explore all legal options for reinstating the program, including amending the constitution.

Related Documents:

New York Times:  Florida Supreme Court Blocks School Vouchers (1/6/2006)
Florida Supreme Court Decision, Bush v. Holmes
(1/5/2006)


RUTGERS LAW PROFESSOR NAMED PUBLIC ADVOCATE (1/6/2006)

Governor-elect Jon Corzine recently named Ron Chen, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Rutgers Law School, to the post of Public Advocate. Chen is a noted legal scholar and civil liberties lawyer.

The public advocate is charged with protecting New Jersey consumers and holding government accountable to its citizens.

Related Documents:

Press Release: Corzine Names Public Advocate and Environmental Protection Commissioner (1/6/2006)


INSTITUTE ON EDUCATION LAW AND POLICY HOLDS MEETING TO DISCUSS DRAFT REPORT (1/11/2006)

On Jan. 10, the Institute on Education Law and Policy convened a meeting of education lawyers, scholars, researchers and practitioners to review and comment on its draft report, Don’t Forget the Schools:  Education Funding Considerations for Tax Reform, scheduled for publication in late January.  The report will be sent to the new governor, then issued to other policy makers and the public, and will discuss current issues in school finance policy and education implications of various tax reform proposals.  Participants at the Jan. 10 meeting offered comments on the draft and help develop recommendations based on the analysis in the report.   


SEARCH FOR EDUCATION COMMISSIONER CONTINUES (1/13/2006)

Governor-elect Jon Corzine has announced that he is conducting a national search for a new state commissioner of education, and that Acting Commissioner Lucille Davy will remain in her position while the search proceeds.  According to Corzine’s press office, Davy will be invited to apply for the permanent position.  She was appointed acting commissioner in the fall of 2005, and has received praise for her performance since then.  In coming weeks, she will be responsible for several important matters, including development of regulations to implement the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC), and making recommendations for unified system of school finance.  

Related Documents:

Star-Ledger:  Corzine Casts Wide Net for Cabinet (1/11/2006)


STATE BD. OF ED. RULES ON BACON V. DEPT. OF EDUCATION (1/13/2006)

On Jan. 4, the State Board of Education issued its decision in Bacon v. Dept. of Education, in which17 poor non-Abbott school districts seek “special needs” designation and state education aid equal to that received by the state’s 31 Abbott districts.  The State Board acknowledged that the petitioning districts are failing to meet the educational needs of their students but refused to grant them the special needs designation or to order immediate additional aid.  Instead, it directed the Department of Education to conduct an assessment of need in each of the districts and make recommendations for a new “unified” school funding system to address the needs of students in all districts throughout the state. 

The Bacon districts allege that although they are not “urban” and therefore they are not eligible for the special needs designation as currently formulated under Abbott v. Burke, their students are as disadvantaged as those in the Abbott districts.  The Bacon districts  further allege that they have insufficient local resources, and receive insufficient state aid, to achieve per-pupil spending levels equal to those in Abbott districts or the state’s wealthiest districts.  The New Jersey Supreme Court in Abbott ordered the state to provide aid to the special needs districts sufficient to provide for regular education spending levels equal to the average spending level in the state’s wealthiest districts.  The Bacon districts seek the same treatment, and claim the state’s failure to provide aid in amounts similar to those received by Abbott districts violates the Thorough and Efficient Clause of the state constitution. 

Counsel for the Bacon districts has said they will appeal the State Board decision, and they will seek direct certification by the Supreme Court.

Related Documents:

State Board of Education Decision, Bacon, et al. v. NJDOE (1/4/2006)

Philadelphia Inquirer:  Districts Denied Abbott Status (1/5/2006)



NJ INSPECTOR GENERAL RELEASES SCHOOLS CONSTRUCTION CORPORATION UPDATE REPORT (1/18/2006)

On Jan. 12, Inspector General Mary Jane Cooper issued a progress report on the Schools Construction Corporation (SCC).  The report stated that the SCC has made “solid progress” toward improving its operation by implementing a number of recommendations previously made by Cooper.  Because of this, Cooper recommended that the SCC be allowed to resume spending on new construction projects.  Doing so would enable the SCC to hire personnel to appropriately staff these projects, and avoid costs from further delay, according to the report.

The report was presented to Acting Governor Codey on his last day in office.  Governor Corzine has received the report, but has responded that spending will not continue until “the appropriate controls are in place.”

Related Documents:

New Jersey Schools Construction Corporation Update Report – 1/12/2006
Trenton Times:  Inspector Gives SCC a Pass, Corzine Not So Sure – 1/13/2006


U.S. DEPT. OF EDUCATION LAUNCHES WEB SITE ON PUBLIC SCHOOL CHOICE (1/31/2006)

The U.S. Department of Education has launched a web site designed to support public school choice efforts around the country.  The site is “a virtual tool kit offering an array of tools taken from real life experiences and used by districts and schools that have succeeded in implementing public school choice programs,” according to the USDOE Office of Innovation and Improvement.

The site contains five action areas that address different steps in the process of creating a public school choice program, from creating a vision and communicating with parents through managing operations, supporting the schools and evaluating the program overall.  .  It also includes profiles of successful choice programs around the country, including Montclair, N.J.  The profiles include demographic and enrollment data, as well as links to specific district practices.  Montclair’s profile includes samples surveys sent to parents; information on how to train district staff to analyze testing data; and a list of answers to frequently asked questions about transportation.

To access the site, go to http://www.buildingchoice.org/.



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