ARCHIVE FOR MARCH 2007
EPPS SAYS HE WILL NOT SEEK REELECTION (3/5/2007)
Jersey City State District Superintendent of Schools Charles Epps has announced that he will not seek reelection for his seat in the New Jersey Assembly. Epps was appointed State District Superintendent in 2000 and was elected to represent the 31st electoral district in the New Jersey Assembly in November 2005. Some, including some of Epps’s fellow legislators, have questioned both the propriety of his dual office-holding and his ability to perform both jobs effectively.
In a statement released to the Jersey Journal, Epps said the decision not to seek reelection was his alone. He said the school district’s return to local control was his primary priority. Under the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (“QSAC”) process, the school district’s performance is being evaluated this spring to determine whether all or part of its operations or governance should be returned to local control.
Jersey Journal: Schools Chief a Trenton Drop-Out (3/2/2007)
STATE AID FIGURES REFLECT FIRST INCREASE IN FIVE YEARS (3/7/2007)
State aid figures released recently by NJDOE reflect increases of more than $300 million in direct aid to school districts and $579.1 million in total aid (including state aid for teachers’ pensions, social security contributions, retiree medical benefits and school building aid) and the first increase in aid to non-Abbott districts since 2002.
Aid increases will be allocated to non-Abbott districts based on their socioeconomic status, indicated by their district factor group (DFG) designation, with DFG A districts receiving the largest increases, 10.3 percent, and DFG J districts receiving the smallest, 3 percent, as follows:
District Factor Group
Additional aid has been earmarked for full-day kindergarten supplemental aid ($26 million) and preschool expansion and enhancement grants ($10 million). And a new aid category, targeted at-risk aid for low-income children, will provide $250 per low-income student to districts in which students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch comprise 15 to 20 percent of enrollment and $500 per low-income student to districts in which those students comprise 20 percent of enrollment or more. NJDOE says 217 districts will qualify for this new form of aid.
Abbott districts will receive aid in amounts sufficient to guarantee parity – spending levels equal to the average among DFG I and J districts -- as per court directives. They also will receive a 3 percent increase in Education Opportunity Aid, with the specific amount for each district determined in the budget review process, as well as a $3.1 million increase in Preschool Expansion Aid.
Press Release: DOE Releases 2007-08 State Aid Figures (2/26/2007)
NJ LEGISLATURE ADOPTS EFFICIENCY MEASURES (3/9/2007)
Three bills promoting municipal and school district efficiency have been adopted by both houses of the New Jersey Legislature and are awaiting the Governor’s signature.
A4/S19, the “Uniform Shared Services and Consolidation Act” permits “local units” to enter into an agreements “to provide or receive any service that each local unit participating in the agreement is empowered to provide or receive within its own jurisdiction, including services incidental to the primary purposes of any of the participating local units.” The bill specifies the terms of such agreements; authorizes the formation of “joint meetings” for the joint operation of public services, public improvements, works, facilities or undertakings; and encourages municipal consolidation at local option. It also establishes a Sharing Resources Efficiently (“SHARE”) grant program in the Division of Local Government Services in the Department of Community Affairs, requires “user-friendly budgets,” and strengthens the role of the county superintendent of schools. Under the bill, “executive county superintendents” appointed by the Governor would have more power to promote operational and administrative efficiencies. They also would have authority to recommend the elimination or consolidation of districts.
A5/S4 provides that in order to receive state aid school districts will be required to participate in various joint purchasing plans and refinance all outstanding debt for which a 3 percent net present value savings threshold is achievable; requires them to submit with their budgets documentation regarding the employment contracts of all non-union employees with annual salaries exceeding $75,000, including the cost of all compensation and benefits; requires public hearings in advance of renegotiating any employment contract with a superintendent, assistant superintendent or school business administrator; authorizes a “compliance audit” of any district “upon identification that the district may be spending state education funds for purposes that are not in compliance with state education law and regulations”; and requiring all administrators, principals and supervisors to complete training on school ethics, school law and school governance.
S12/A15, the Local Unit Realignment Reorganization and Consolidation Commission Act, provides for the creation of a statewide commission, “in but not of the Department of Community Affairs,” to study and report on county and municipal government and the “appropriate allocation of service delivery responsibilities from the standpoint of efficiency.” Based on its findings, the commission is to develop criteria and recommend the consolidation of specific municipalities; the merger of specific autonomous agencies into the parent municipal or county government; or sharing of services between municipalities or between municipalities and other public entities.
U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE RELEASES REPORT ON EDUCATIONAL EFFECTIVENESS (3/9/2007)
The Institute for a Competitive Workforce, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has released a report entitled Leaders and Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on Educational Effectiveness. The report grades the 50 states and the District of Columbia on the effectiveness of their K-12 school systems through the use of “key business metrics: innovation, flexibility, management, and fiscal prudence.” Overall, the report’s findings are not positive: “…the states need to do a better job of monitoring and delivering quality schooling.”
States are graded in nine categories: academic achievement, academic achievement of low-income and minority students, return on investment (how a state spends its education dollars), truth in advertising about student proficiency, rigor of standards, postsecondary and workforce readiness, 21st century teaching force, flexibility in management and policy, and data quality.
New Jersey receives mixed results, scoring high marks in overall academic achievement (“the state ranks among the highest in the nation”), as well as that of low-income and minority students, in which 25 percent of Hispanic fourth graders scored at or above the proficient level on the NAEP math exam (the national average is 19 percent). The state also scores well in teacher quality (the report praises New Jersey’s alternate route certificate programs and its rigor regarding teachers’ subject matter expertise) and workforce readiness (the report finds that 85 percent of New Jersey’s ninth graders receive a diploma in four years, and 54 percent of those go onto college). The state receives low marks in data quality (the report cites the state’s lack of a unique statewide student identifier) and return on investment.
The report urges the business community to take a more active role in supporting education reform efforts. “[M]uch of what ails schooling today is a lack of management savvy, information and organizational discipline. These are skills that business leaders practice every day. Business leaders can support educators’ efforts to reform curricula, teaching practices, and more by providing leadership and know-how in refashioning schools into accountable, flexible, high-achieving organizations.”
Leaders and Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on Educational Effectiveness (2/2007)
NJ DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION ANNOUNCES REORGANIZATION (3/15/2007)
Earlier this month, Commissioner of Education Lucille Davy announced a reorganization of the department of education. This announcement was made at the monthly State Board of Education meeting held on March 7, and approved by the State Board at that time. Details of the reorganization are being released incrementally.
Among the changes are creation of an Office of Research, Evaluation and Assessments, which will absorb the former assessment office and address issues of education research and data; creation of a Division of District and School Improvement, which will encompass many of the current programs related to Abbott implementation; and a move from regional offices to a Division of Field Services, which will include 21 county offices. The plan consolidates authority under three new senior staff members: Special Assistant to the Commissioner Donna Arons will oversee the Office of Controversies and Disputes, the Division of Finance and the Division of Field Services; Chief of Staff Brendan Gill will oversee the Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance, the Office of School Facilities and the State Board Office; and Deputy Commissioner Willa Spicer will oversee the Division of Early Education, Division of Academic and Professional Standards, Division of District and School Improvement, Division of Student Support Services, and the Office of Research, Evaluation and Assessment.
Star-Ledger: Education Chief Revamps Department (3/8/2007)
NIEER PRESCHOOL YEARBOOK 2006 RELEASED; NEW JERSEY RANKS FIRST AGAIN (3/16/2007)
The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has released its fourth annual report profiling state-funded pre-kindergarten programs throughout the United States. This year’s report focuses on data from the 2005-06 school year, and provides a national picture as well as reports on the 38 states that have state-funded pre-kindergarten programs.
The report says approximately 950,000 children were enrolled in pre-k programs nationwide, an increase over previous years. Total spending for pre-k increased to nearly $3.3 billion, although in many states it did not keep up with increased enrollment and inflation. Sixteen states improved their pre-k performance in one or more of the areas rated by NIEER’s ten quality standards, and for the first time, two states, Alabama and North Carolina, met all ten of NIEER’s standards.
As it has for the past four years, New Jersey again placed first in NIEER’s ranking of state performance on the quantity of resources provided to state-funded preschools and in three-year-olds’ access to preschool. In 2005-06, the state enrolled a total of 46,261 three- and four-year olds in the Abbott preschool program, the non-Abbott Early Childhood Program Aid (ECPA), and the Early Launch to Literacy Initiative (ELLI), and spent a total of $455,843,248. The Abbott preschool program met nine of NIEER’s ten quality benchmarks, the EPCA program met six, and the ELLI program met eight. All three programs failed to meet the standard for a degree for assistant teachers, ECPA and ELLI failed to meet the standard for provision of meals and ECPA failed to meet the standards for class size and staff-child ratio.
NIEER: The State of Preschool 2006 (3/14/2007)
STATE OF MISSOURI TAKES OVER ST. LOUIS SCHOOL DISTRICT (3/26/2007)
On March 22, the Missouri State Board of Education moved to take over the St. Louis School District in a 5-1 decision. At the same meeting, the State Board stripped the district of its accreditation, due to the fact that the district had failed to satisfy nine of fourteen academic and financial standards.
As a result of the State Board action, a three-person “transitional board” will take over operation of the district starting June 15, 2007. Governor Matt Blunt appointed Rick Sullivan, an area businessman, to lead the board. The other two members will be appointed by the mayor of St. Louis and the president of the city’s Board of Aldermen.
St. Louis is Missouri’s largest school district, with approximately 40,000 students in 93 schools. Nearly 82 percent of its students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch.
Kansas City Star: State Will Take Over St. Louis Schools (3/23/2007)
St. Louis School District: An Annual Report to the Community (2005-06)
NJDOE RELEASES 2007 COMPARATIVE SPENDING GUIDE (3/28/2007)
NJDOE’s 2007 Comparative Spending Guide, which includes detailed spending data on every New Jersey school district, is now available. The Guide provides school officials, researchers and the public with information about each district’s 2005-06 expenditures, and ranks districts on a number of spending indicators such as total administration costs and total classroom instruction, and staffing indicators such as student-classroom ratio and ratio of faculty to administrative personnel.
The report’s data indicate that in the past year, district spending statewide increased by 3.3 percent in classroom instruction costs, 4.5 percent in support services costs (nursing and guidance), and 1.0 percent in administrative services costs. Trend data shows these increases to be in line with increases that have occurred since 1999-2000.
2007 Comparative Spending Guide (updated 3/28/2007)
ABBOTT SUPERINTENDENTS TESTIFY ON THREE PERCENT SPENDING INCREASE (3/28/2007)
On March 26, 13 superintendents of Abbott districts testified before the New Jersey Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Public Schools on the proposed three percent increase in state aid for all school districts. In addition to discussing why a three percent increase is insufficient, some of the superintendents said that NJDOE staff had “coerced” them into accepting the figure. Although the three percent proposal ostensibly allows Abbott districts to request more funding if needed, in accordance with court rulings, the superintendents said that those who asked for more were threatened with a higher level of scrutiny in district audits and potential cuts in future budgets.
Assemblyman Craig Stanley (D-Essex), co-chairman of the committee on the Public Schools, called the situation "very, very, very troublesome."
Star-Ledger: Educators Say State Threatened to Cut Aid (3/27/2007)