ARCHIVE FOR MARCH 2006
ELC REPORT ON ABBOTT PERFORMANCE SHOWS MIXED RESULTS (3/14/2006)
A report issued March 9 by the Education Law Center entitled “The Abbott Districts in 2005-06: Progress and Challenges” shows that student performance is improving in Abbott preschools and elementary schools but falling short in middle and high schools. Other report findings: the Abbott preschool program has significantly improved students’ kindergarten readiness skills and a decrease in the achievement gap between Abbott and non-Abbott fourth graders in literacy and math; graduation rates in Abbott schools were have increased over the last 10 years, but not at the same rate as in non-Abbott schools; and many Abbott schools are have difficulty filling positions, such as tutors, parent engagement coordinators and drop-out retention counselors.
The report concludes by recommending next steps that should be taken, including continued implementation of reform, particularly at the secondary level; ensuring policy and program stability through regulation; and increased accountability within the districts and the state.
Abbott Indicators Report: “The Abbott Districts in 2005-06: Progress and Challenges,” (3/9/2006)
WORKING GROUP ON SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION ISSUES INTERIM REPORT (3/20/2006)
On March 15, the Interagency Working Group on School Construction submitted its interim report to the Governor, with initial findings and recommendations. The report says “major operational and programmatic changes are necessary to move forward with a school construction program that will efficiently and effectively build schools for our children,” and calls for “a recommitment to the broader purpose beyond the building of schools, which includes revitalization of communities linked to their urban planning and economic growth.” Among the findings and recommendations:
1) The activities currently managed by the SCC would be better managed if structured within an agency dedicated solely to the management of school construction with a governance and oversight board, the members of which are selected based on their specific background and knowledge of the activities of the New Authority for Schools.
2) Until the transition to a New Authority for Schools is completed, the SCC must continue to operate and manage the $3 billion in projects that are currently ongoing.
3) The responsibilities now vested in the Schools Construction Corporation should be transitioned to a new authority that is located in, but not of, the Department of the Treasury.
4) The Department of Education, working with the local school districts, needs to complete its assessment of the 2005 Long Range Facilities Plans, incorporating the most up to date view of Facilities Efficiency Standards, in order to prioritize which school facilities need to be funded.
5) No additional funding should be authorized for school construction activities until the corporation’s operations and management have been further strengthened and new systems developed to address issues of enhancing cost control and collaboration with boards of education and their communities.
The Interagency Working Group was convened in February 2006 by executive order (see the Recent Development dated 2/9/2006). It promises a follow-up report on May 15, 2006.
Interagency Task Force Interim Report on School Construction (3/15/2006)
Star-Ledger: Report Urges Dismantling of School Agency (3/16/2006)
LEE GROUP SEEKS NCLB CHANGES (3/23/2006)
On March 20, the coalition of education groups known as Leadership for Educational Excellence (LEE) sent a letter to Acting Commissioner Lucille Davy requesting changes in the state implementation plan for No Child Left Behind.
The group, which includes the NJ School Boards Association, the NJ Education Association, the NJ Principals and Supervisors Association, the NJ Association of School Business Officials, and the NJ Association of School Administrators, recommended the following changes:
1) A uniform size for all reportable subgroups, no smaller than 35 students. Currently, any subgroup of 20 students or more counts toward a school’s or district’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). This has resulted in the over-identification of schools as in need of improvement.
2) The use of “confidence intervals” for Adequate Yearly Progress and Safe Harbor calculations, to the maximum extent allowable under federal law. Confidence intervals assume that one day of testing may not be an accurate snapshot of a school’s performance and allow flexibility regarding the proficiency levels.
3) The return to averaging grades separately, thereby reversing the decision made last year to aggregate or “bundle” data across grades. This type of data manipulation has nothing to do with student performance and is hindering New Jersey’s efforts toward 100% student proficiency by 2014.
Letter to Acting Commissioner Lucille Davy from LEE (3/20/2006)
NJ DOE ANNOUNCES STATE AID FIGURES, INCLUDING CUTS TO SOME ABBOTT DISTRICTS AND FREEZE IN CHOICE AID (3/24/2006)
On March 23, the NJ Department of Education announced state aid figures for school districts, including flat funding for most districts, a result of the state’s “severe financial crisis,” according to the Department.
Of particular note is that eight Abbott districts will suffer substantial aid cuts. Those districts -- Newark, Jersey City, Garfield, New Brunswick, Perth Amboy, Asbury Park, Long Branch and Neptune – will be required to make up the difference with locally generated funds, including increases in their general fund tax levies. Those increases are to be accomplished in a manner that will limit the average household tax increase to $125.
Also of note is that Choice Aid, aid to districts participating in the pilot Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, which allows students to enroll in schools outside their home districts, will be frozen. Students participating in the program will be permitted to continue, but choice districts will not be able to accept any new choice students.
Other decreases include aid to districts that have had declining enrollments for five consecutive years; aid to districts with per-pupil equalized property values below $750,000 and county vocational districts serving students from Abbott districts. . Increases include a 19% increase in preschool expansion aid, aid to districts with above-average enrollments, and aid to certain districts that border Abbott districts.
NJDOE Press Release: DOE Releases 2006-07 State Aid Figures (3/23/2006)
NJDOE RELEASES 2006 COMPARATIVE SPENDING GUIDE (3/27/2006)
On March 24, the NJ Department of Education released the 2006 Comparative Spending Guide, the Department’s statistical report on local school district spending. The guide ranks districts in several spending categories such as classroom costs, administrative costs and transportation; and includes data for the current year as well as 2004-05 and 2003-04.
According to the guide, total per-pupil costs average $11,554 statewide and $11,673 in K-12 districts, with a range from $8,447 to $16,351 among large K-12 districts (those with 3,501 or more pupils). The average per-pupil cost in Abbott districts is $14,287, with a range from $11,615 in Garfield to $18,893 in Asbury Park. The average among charter schools is $9,804, with a range from $6,106 at Greater Brunswick Charter School in New Brunswick to $14,262 at Emily Fischer Charter School of Advanced Studies in Trenton.
In her press release issuing the guide, Acting Commissioner Lucille Davy urged citizens to participate in the school budget process and to use the guide to stimulate discussions about local school spending plans. Annual school elections, including budget referenda, are scheduled for April 18.
Comparative Spending Guide (3/2006)
INSTITUTE RELEASES FIRST IN A SERIES OF REPORTS ON SCHOOL FUNDING AND TAX REFORM (3/29/2006)
On March 27, the Institute on Education Law and Policy released the first in a series of reports entitled Don’t Forget the Schools, focusing on the interplay between education funding and state tax reform. Authored by Paul Tractenberg, Professor of Law at Rutgers Law School - Newark and Founding Director of the Institute, the report discusses the fiscal, budget and policy considerations for policy makers and others in the ongoing discussion of tax reform.
Don’t Forget the Schools: Fiscal, Budget and Policy Considerations for Tax Reform can be accessed at http://ielp.rutgers.edu/docs/DFTS1_web.pdf. Print copies are available free of charge, and may be requested by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.