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7-2-12 Education and Related Issues in the News

NJSpotlight - School Aid Left Intact, But Debate Looms on How NJ Figures Numbers… Democrats preserve funding formula while awaiting Cerf’s report on formal plan

By John Mooney, July 2, 2012 in Education|

 

New Jersey’s fiscal 2013 budget may be signed -- give or take a line item or two -- but the debate over how to distribute its largest slice of spending is far from over.

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Gov. Chris Christie sought in his budget proposal to rewrite parts of the state’s school funding formula, tweaking the intricate methods for determining how much districts receive from the state for individual children. The $8 billion distributed to districts represents close to a quarter of all state spending.

But the Democrat-led Legislature succeeded in tweaking it right back in the final budget approved last week, as it removed all the budget language in Christie’s proposal that would have essentially codified his changes.

The Democrats left intact the final aid numbers that Christie proposed – a $199 million increase overall – but they sent back the message that the administration will have to do more to sell its broader approach that led to those numbers.

That sets up what could be the real debate in the next six months, as the administration has said it will come back with its formal plan for adjusting the formula in the School Funding Reform Act of 2008.

The plan will come in what is called the “adequacy report,” a periodic review to whether the SFRA’s version of what is adequate funding for schools is enough or too much. The report is required under the law every three years, but has been repeatedly delayed.

Acting education commissioner Chris Cerf told legislators that he would have the report done by the end of the calendar year, although many expect it will look similar to the Education Funding Report he prepared for the budget.

“We did not want any misconstruing that this was the adequacy report in any shape or form,” said state Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson), chairman of the Assembly’s budget committee.

“I directly asked the commissioner during hearings if this was it, and he said ‘not yet,” Prieto said. “So we didn’t want any perception that we were doing that.”

Advocates celebrated the Legislature’s decision to at least block the language changes for now, although the numbers were left intact. While a vast majority of districts will see increases, nearly 100 school districts -- many of them low-income -- will see aid cuts.

“What the Legislature did was extremely important,” said David Sciarra, director of the Education Law Center, the Newark-based advocacy group that has led the Abbott v. Burke litigation.

“Those multi-year adjustments that the commissioner and governor clearly wanted to make didn’t belong in the budget and had no place in the budget.”

The most significant changes proposed by Christie would have slightly reduced the extra funding going to districts for students from low-income families or limited English language skills. In addition, Christie sought to change how schools count enrollment, moving away from the single count each year on a specific date to an average count over the course of the year.

Both moves were criticized as hurting high-poverty districts more than suburban ones, something that Christie has hardly dispelled in his ongoing criticism of the Abbott v. Burke school equity rulings and the sums spent by districts like Camden, Newark, and Asbury Park.

A legislative staff report said the changes could have reduced the per pupil funding for students with high concentrations of poor and immigrant populations by as much as $1,000 less than what the SFRA called for, if fully funded.

Yesterday, Cerf stood by both the dollars and the language proposed in Christie’s initial budget, calling the changes “common sense” and the funding amounts historic.

“The budget reflects very significant increases in foundation amounts and what was appropriated for special education,” he said. “It is the largest investment in education that any governor has ever implemented.”

When asked whether he would submit his Education Funding Report as his adequacy report, Cerf said no decisions have been made as yet with the budget deliberations still fresh. “I have a lot of thinking to do,” he said.

The upcoming discussion on the funding distribution will bring a couple of twists, too.

For one, the Legislature will have special powers in reviewing the adequacy report. Under the statute, the administration will submit any proposed changes to the formula by September, and the Legislature will have 90 days to act. If it does not act, the changes will go into effect. But the Legislature has power to reject the changes outright or to make its own, with its decision final.

In addition, only the funding formula itself can be changed, and the administration’s proposed changes to how students are counted would have to be dealt with separately in the statute itself.

Last, there have been a few more political wrinkles in school funding since Christie’s budget was first presented. One is an ongoing effort in the Legislature to provide additional money to districts with particularly high enrollment growth, and there has also been a recent bill that would help more rural districts of the state. That bill passed the Senate on Thursday.

Bloomberg - Christie Asks N.J. Lawmakers to Turn Tax Increase Into Cut

By Terrence Dopp and Elise Young - Jul 3, 2012 12:01 AM ET

Whether it takes a day, a week or months for New Jersey lawmakers to pass a tax cut, the outcome would be the same: no relief until at least 2013, if then.

Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, conditionally vetoed a measure backed by Democrats to raise the income-tax rate on those earning $1 million or more a year. He sent the bill back and convened a special legislative session yesterday with an appeal to produce a levy rollback.

July 2 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney and state Senator Loretta Weinberg, both Democrats, talk with reporters about the state's budget. Governor Chris Christie called for Democrats who control the Legislature to replace their proposed tax increase on millionaires with a cut. (This is an excerpt. Source: Bloomberg)

“A bipartisan tax-cut plan is on all of your desks right now,” Christie said in remarks to lawmakers yesterday. “Let’s show our state we can work together and finish the job before we leave.” Tomorrow is a U.S. holiday, Independence Day.

Democrats who run the Legislature had a deal with Christie, 49, over a tax reduction. While they set aside $183 million for refunds based on property levies, Democratic leaders said they won’t consider implementing the plan until the revenue picture clarifies and questioned the need for a special session. That prompted Christie to say they’re holding a tax cut “hostage.”

The Legislature hasn’t passed proposed tax reductions or credits for fiscal 2013. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver of East Orange and Senate President Stephen Sweeney of West Deptford, both Democrats, said they’re in no rush to act on a rollback. Democrats won’t agree to one until they know revenue will meet forecasts, Oliver told reporters after Christie’s remarks.

No Rush

“This is not an issue of emergent concern,” Oliver told reporters in Trenton, the state capital. “If we agree upon revenue projections, if we see that revenue roll in, the Legislature is more than prepared to put forth a piece of legislation to effectuate a tax reduction.”

The governor has touted what he calls a “Jersey Comeback”that will cover tax cuts and higher spending. His proposed fiscal 2013 budget counted on a 7.2 percent revenue gain compared with 2012, second only to a 7.7 percent jump projected by California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, according to an analysis of a National Governors Association report by the New Jersey treasurer’s office.

Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, a Christie appointee, has said that revenue through the June 2013 end of the fiscal year may trail the governor’s target by $700 million, while the Legislature’s chief budget analyst has said the gap may be almost twice that size.

Democrats have said they will wait at least until December, halfway through the fiscal year, to evaluate the revenue picture. They may act to implement a tax rollback at that time.

‘Big Hole’

“We’re giving him the benefit of the doubt here and saying the money is in the budget,” Sweeney said in his statehouse office after Christie’s remarks. “Why would we jump and do something today, then come December, we may have a big hole in our budget.”

Sweeney called the special session unneeded and “political theater” aimed at boosting Christie’s profile among national Republicans ahead of their August convention in Tampa, Florida. While average residential property taxes in New Jersey are the highest in the nation, Sweeney said Christie’s proposed 10 percent income-tax rollback is designed to appeal to voters nationwide. The governor flirted with a presidential bid last year before rejecting a run, saying he wasn’t ready for it.

Christie, who faces re-election in 2013, had wanted to spread his across-the-board cut over three years. Democrats said that plan favored the wealthy and ignored residents’ property-tax burdens. Their proposal would provide credits for 10 percent of residential property levies for those households earning less than $400,000 annually.

Millionaire Tax

Christie and Senate Democrats agreed on a 10 percent property-tax credit. The Assembly doubled its size and added a surcharge on residents making at least $1 million to pay for it. The bill Christie conditionally vetoed provided that funding.

“New Jersey has gotten an image over the past decade of being a place where the first answer to everything is higher taxes,” Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, a Republican from Little Silver and his party’s budget officer, said by telephone. A rollback, he said, “sends a message that the people running New Jersey realize tax relief is important.”

Christie is trying to avoid increasing taxes. He said last month he would back Sweeney’s 10 percent credit.

After the Legislature passed the budget and failed to cut levies, the governor said the Democrats were holding “tax relief hostage.” He signed the spending plan June 29 after vetoing $361 million added by Democrats, such as $50 million of credits for the working poor.

Governor’s Appeal

“Let’s open the board, vote for a middle-class tax cut and show that bipartisanship is alive and well in New Jersey,”Christie told lawmakers yesterday. “I have come to the center of the room and agreed to the Senate Democratic tax plan. Will you join me?”

Peter Woolley, who leads the PublicMind poll and teaches politcs at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey, said Democrats are partly right in that a tax cut would boost Christie’s national stature. Closer to home, it would also let him keep a campaign pledge for a rollback.

“Both sides have some risk here but ultimately the object for either side is to get what you want or be in a position to blame somebody else,” Woolley said by telephone. “And nobody is going to be asking Steve Sweeney to speak at the national convention.”

Christie’s calls for smaller government and lower taxes have helped to make him a national figure. The governor’s office has used videos of his speeches and town-hall style meetings onGoogle Inc. (GOOG)’s YouTube.com website to spread his message.

“This was a YouTube moment -- that’s all,” Sweeney said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Terrence Dopp in Trenton at tdopp@bloomberg.net; Elise Young in Trenton at eyoung30@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

Bloomberg - Christie Asks N.J. Lawmakers to Turn Tax Increase Into Cut

By Terrence Dopp and Elise Young - Jul 3, 2012 12:01 AM ET

Whether it takes a day, a week or months for New Jersey lawmakers to pass a tax cut, the outcome would be the same: no relief until at least 2013, if then.

Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, conditionally vetoed a measure backed by Democrats to raise the income-tax rate on those earning $1 million or more a year. He sent the bill back and convened a special legislative session yesterday with an appeal to produce a levy rollback.

July 2 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney and state Senator Loretta Weinberg, both Democrats, talk with reporters about the state's budget. Governor Chris Christie called for Democrats who control the Legislature to replace their proposed tax increase on millionaires with a cut. (This is an excerpt. Source: Bloomberg)

“A bipartisan tax-cut plan is on all of your desks right now,” Christie said in remarks to lawmakers yesterday. “Let’s show our state we can work together and finish the job before we leave.” Tomorrow is a U.S. holiday, Independence Day.

Democrats who run the Legislature had a deal with Christie, 49, over a tax reduction. While they set aside $183 million for refunds based on property levies, Democratic leaders said they won’t consider implementing the plan until the revenue picture clarifies and questioned the need for a special session. That prompted Christie to say they’re holding a tax cut “hostage.”

The Legislature hasn’t passed proposed tax reductions or credits for fiscal 2013. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver of East Orange and Senate President Stephen Sweeney of West Deptford, both Democrats, said they’re in no rush to act on a rollback. Democrats won’t agree to one until they know revenue will meet forecasts, Oliver told reporters after Christie’s remarks.

No Rush

“This is not an issue of emergent concern,” Oliver told reporters in Trenton, the state capital. “If we agree upon revenue projections, if we see that revenue roll in, the Legislature is more than prepared to put forth a piece of legislation to effectuate a tax reduction.”

The governor has touted what he calls a “Jersey Comeback”that will cover tax cuts and higher spending. His proposed fiscal 2013 budget counted on a 7.2 percent revenue gain compared with 2012, second only to a 7.7 percent jump projected by California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, according to an analysis of a National Governors Association report by the New Jersey treasurer’s office.

Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, a Christie appointee, has said that revenue through the June 2013 end of the fiscal year may trail the governor’s target by $700 million, while the Legislature’s chief budget analyst has said the gap may be almost twice that size.

Democrats have said they will wait at least until December, halfway through the fiscal year, to evaluate the revenue picture. They may act to implement a tax rollback at that time.

‘Big Hole’

“We’re giving him the benefit of the doubt here and saying the money is in the budget,” Sweeney said in his statehouse office after Christie’s remarks. “Why would we jump and do something today, then come December, we may have a big hole in our budget.”

Sweeney called the special session unneeded and “political theater” aimed at boosting Christie’s profile among national Republicans ahead of their August convention in Tampa, Florida. While average residential property taxes in New Jersey are the highest in the nation, Sweeney said Christie’s proposed 10 percent income-tax rollback is designed to appeal to voters nationwide. The governor flirted with a presidential bid last year before rejecting a run, saying he wasn’t ready for it.

Christie, who faces re-election in 2013, had wanted to spread his across-the-board cut over three years. Democrats said that plan favored the wealthy and ignored residents’ property-tax burdens. Their proposal would provide credits for 10 percent of residential property levies for those households earning less than $400,000 annually.

Millionaire Tax

Christie and Senate Democrats agreed on a 10 percent property-tax credit. The Assembly doubled its size and added a surcharge on residents making at least $1 million to pay for it. The bill Christie conditionally vetoed provided that funding.

“New Jersey has gotten an image over the past decade of being a place where the first answer to everything is higher taxes,” Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, a Republican from Little Silver and his party’s budget officer, said by telephone. A rollback, he said, “sends a message that the people running New Jersey realize tax relief is important.”

Christie is trying to avoid increasing taxes. He said last month he would back Sweeney’s 10 percent credit.

After the Legislature passed the budget and failed to cut levies, the governor said the Democrats were holding “tax relief hostage.” He signed the spending plan June 29 after vetoing $361 million added by Democrats, such as $50 million of credits for the working poor.

Governor’s Appeal

“Let’s open the board, vote for a middle-class tax cut and show that bipartisanship is alive and well in New Jersey,”Christie told lawmakers yesterday. “I have come to the center of the room and agreed to the Senate Democratic tax plan. Will you join me?”

Peter Woolley, who leads the PublicMind poll and teaches politcs at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey, said Democrats are partly right in that a tax cut would boost Christie’s national stature. Closer to home, it would also let him keep a campaign pledge for a rollback.

“Both sides have some risk here but ultimately the object for either side is to get what you want or be in a position to blame somebody else,” Woolley said by telephone. “And nobody is going to be asking Steve Sweeney to speak at the national convention.”

Christie’s calls for smaller government and lower taxes have helped to make him a national figure. The governor’s office has used videos of his speeches and town-hall style meetings onGoogle Inc. (GOOG)’s YouTube.com website to spread his message.

“This was a YouTube moment -- that’s all,” Sweeney said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Terrence Dopp in Trenton at tdopp@bloomberg.net; Elise Young in Trenton at eyoung30@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

The Record - Schools get a fraction of anti-bullying money asked for

Monday, July 2, 2012 Last updated: Tuesday July 3, 2012, 6:41 AM BY LESLIE BRODY STAFF WRITER

 

A one-year state fund to combat bullying offered far fewer dollars than districts wanted and its allocation had some unexpected outcomes: The entire Englewood school district got less than $200, for example, while a single charter school in Paterson was given more than $9,000.

Districts sought nearly $5 million in grants — or five times the money in the pot. The state decided to give each district about 20 percent of whatever eligible expenses it requested.

In Haledon, Superintendent Richard Ney figured he could maybe buy some pens and pencils with his district’s $36.

“Guess we should have asked for more,” said Ney, who added that the policy of giving each applicant the same fraction of its request was “pretty arbitrary.”

“You try to play it straight, and you lose,” he said.

The Christie administration announced the $1 million fund in March to back up the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights after a state panel deemed the new law to be an unfunded local mandate, and therefore unconstitutional. Of 371 districts that got grants, which were outlined on Friday, about half received less than $1,200.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood, a prime sponsor of the bill that became the anti-bullying law, said she wished the state “took a more district-specific approach to maximize the dollars as opposed to across the board” allocations of 20 percent of requests. Her home district of Englewood got $174, which she called “meaningless.”

But she also hoped that as educators became more familiar with the law, the extra expenses of enforcing it would diminish. “I would hope they would be creative and use existing resources,” she said.

Some district leaders said the dollars didn’t stretch far enough so the 2011 law remained problematic, even though its goals were worthwhile. Some were confused about how much reimbursement they could seek for extra staff costs tied to the law, which requires quick investigations and thorough documentation of every alleged bullying incident, as well as assigning employees to serve as anti-bullying specialists and coordinators.

Bogota Superintendent Letizia Pantoliano called her district’s award of $2,208 “negligible.” She asked for $10,775.

“Any time you can get help it’s a good thing,” she said, “but the money is insufficient compared to the expense.”

Even some of the relative winners questioned the fairness of the allocations. For example, Paterson Charter School for Science and Technology — which is considered an independent district — won $9,166 for slightly fewer students than Bogota. The charter got more than half as much as the award for the entire district of Paterson, which serves more than 28,000 students. Paterson got $15,307 after seeking $74,684.

The head of the Paterson charter, A. Riza Gurcanli, said the money would be used to pay for an anti-bullying coordinator at his school, where 27 bullying incidents were investigated last year. “Paterson has over 20,000 students and we have 1,000 so obviously the incidences are very different,” he said. “I believe they will come up with a different formula.”

Department of Education spokeswoman Barbara Morgan said staff reviewed all applications to see which requests were eligible. Those deemed appropriate included a range of items, such as reimbursement for personnel expenses tied to the safety specialists, training on the district’s anti-bullying policies, counseling for victims and programs to improve the school climate.

“Protecting all of our students from bullying and harassment that detracts from their ability to learn in school is a top priority for all of us, and we are thrilled this money was available to help support the work our schools have undertaken to ensure our students are kept safe,” she said by email.

Overall, Bergen County districts won $93,691, with the biggest awards to Emerson ($16,662), Westwood Regional School District ($9,811) and Northern Valley Regional High School District ($7,781).

Northern Valley Superintendent Chris Nagy said he was happy for help paying for speakers, training and expanded services from a student-assistance counselor. “For an unfunded mandate, I am grateful to have something,” he said.

Passaic County districts received a total of $35,794.

The anti-bullying law, which Governor Christie signed in January 2011, aimed to replace a voluntary set of guidelines and was hailed as one of the toughest bullying prevention laws for schools in the country. It was passed after a string of tragic high-profile cases, including that of Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman from Ridgewood who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate used a webcam to show him kissing another man.

Last August, several districts complained to a small but powerful panel called the Council of Local Mandates that the new law’s stringent requirements imposed an unfair burden on their budgets. The council agreed, putting the new law on hold until Trenton put money in a prevention fund. Districts were invited to apply as long as they exhausted free resources first.

The head of the council could not be reached Monday for comment about whether the fund went far enough to protect local districts.

The Allamuchy Board of Education in Warren County, which filed the legal complaint, asked the state for $15,356 from the fund and was awarded $3,147.

Staff Writer Dave Sheingold contributed to this article. Email: brody@northjersey.com

Associated Press - Christie speaks warmly of teacher tenure bill

Monday July 2, 2012, 4:53 PM

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie has said he's conflicted over whether to sign a bill to overhaul New Jersey's teacher-tenure laws, but he sounded like he was on board with it during a speech Monday before the Legislature.

Christie cited the law passed unanimously by the Legislature last month as a symbol of bipartisan agreement — but didn't say he would sign it.

Over the past week, Christie has talked several times about feeling conflicted.

He supports making tenure harder for educators to attain and easier to lose, but needs to decide whether he's willing to support a bill that would still use seniority to determine which educators lose their jobs if layoffs occur.

Christie has until August to sign or veto the bill.

Politickernj - Christie issues CV of millionaire's tax

By Bill Mooney | July 2nd, 2012 - 4:17pm

TRENTON – As he promised, Gov. Chris Christie issued his conditional veto of the millionaire’s tax, A3201, and reworked it into a tax-relief plan for the Legislature to enact.

But the Democratic-controlled Legislature left the Statehouse today without acting on the governor’s call.

Here are the details of the CV:

He placed amendments in the bill to provide residents with incomes of $400,000 or less an income tax credit equal to 10 percent of their property tax bill, up to $1,000 when fully phased in after four years.

Under the proposal Christie sent to lawmakers, the income tax credit would have meant a savings of $775 for an average family;

Net profits from a business or trade – derived from Schedule C income – would not count against the income tax cap;

About 80,000 additional families would have been helped through these changes.

After it was phased in, tenants would have received $200 a year in tax deductions, up from $50.

In addition, restoration of the earned income tax credit would have been implemented for tax year 2013, with the average family receiving a benefit of $550.

In addition, he vetoed A3202, which would have made a supplemental appropriation of $800 million for the Homestead Benefit program to provide property tax relief.

 


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160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
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