|2-21-14 In the News - Special Education...Vo-Tech, Business,Legislators Combine to Promote College-Career Readiness|
NJ Spotlight - Fine Print: Disability Rights NJ v. NJ Department of Education Finally Settled...Consent agreement reached after seven years aims to reduce NJ’s high number of special-needs students in segregated settings 'What it is: Filed in 2007, the federal lawsuit filed against the state for failing to ensure special-education students are served in the “least restrictive environment” reached final settlement this week with a consent agreement between the plaintiffs and the Christie administration...'
NJ Spotlight - Business Coalition Calls Vo-Tech Schools Crucial to NJ’s Future...'New Jersey’s vocational and technical schools got a big boost yesterday when a new coalition of more than 100 businesses said the schools should get the support -- and funding – they need to keep preparing students for the workforce of the future.
Led by the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, representatives of the New Jersey Employer Coalition for Technical Education gathered...'
NJ Spotlight - Fine Print: Disability Rights NJ v. NJ Department of Education Finally Settled
John Mooney | February 21, 2014
Consent agreement reached after seven years aims to reduce NJ’s high number of special-needs students in segregated settings
What it is: Filed in 2007, the federal lawsuit filed against the state for failing to ensure special-education students are served in the “least restrictive environment” reached final settlement this week with a consent agreement between the plaintiffs and the Christie administration. District Court Judge Mary Little Cooper signed the final agreement on Wednesday.
What it means: The agreement calls for the state to take extraordinary measures to insure that the districts with the lowest rates of inclusion -- urban and suburban -- follow through on remediation plans.
The agreement also calls for districts that have disproportionate numbers of minority students in separate placements to take corrective action. Other requirements include added compliance efforts in the state education department, additional training of district staff, and formation of a statewide committee of stakeholders to monitor the efforts.
The plaintiffs: The plaintiffs were a coalition of disability rights advocates and attorneys, including New Jersey Protection and Advocacy, the Education Law Center, the ARC of New Jersey, and Statewide Parent Advocacy Network.
What’s the problem: New Jersey has long had a history of having among the most segregated special-education settings in the country, with half of all special-needs students predominately educated outside the general education classroom and one in 10 in separate schools.
What’s the difference: The state has also had a long history of facing federal pressure to remedy its record and it has made some progress in reducing the rate of outside placements. But the new settlement adds teeth to enforcing compliance, say the plaintiffs, and forces the state to take action against districts that fail to improve.
Quote: ‘I think the game-change is this settlement is 65 pages long, with attachments that are very prescriptive to what the state must do in working with districts,” said David Harris, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs with Lowenstein, Sandler of Roseland. “It doesn’t allow for any deviation, and the stakeholders committee will be watching over the districts on virtually every step.”
The 75 targeted districts: The agreement specifically calls for needs assessments and corrective plans for the 75 districts with the lowest rates of inclusion, both in K-12 programs and preschool. The districts, from large to small, encompass about a quarter of the state’s school children. They include urban districts like Newark, Elizabeth and Passaic, as well as suburban ones including Edison, East Windsor Regional and Livingston.
In addition, 10 districts are cited for having the widest disparities of placements based on race and ethnicity. They include Jersey City, Montclair, South Orange/Maplewood and Toms River.
State response: "This agreement is an extension of what the Department of Education has been doing for years to help bring students with disabilities back into their hometown schools,” said a statement yesterday from Michael Yaple, the state education department’s communications director. “We’ve done this through training, technical assistance meetings with individual school officials, through direct oversight of schools, and with grant programs for districts throughout the state. This decision reaffirms our commitment to work toward that goal."
The timeframe: The state has to start the needs assessments by September. Once the corrective plans are developed, the clock starts on the three-year time frame for compliance with the consent agreement.
How much will it cost: The consent agreement does not address costs that will be incurred by both the state and the school districts.
“It will cost money, for sure,” Harris said. “But the federal court could only order actions, not say that you must (spend a certain amount).”
What’s next: “It’s only a first step,” Harris said. “It is a significant first step, but how many more steps are needs will depend on how faithfully the state implements it.”
So, no one remembers the State Slashing Direct Aid to Special Education a few years ago???
NJ Spotlight - Business Coalition Calls Vo-Tech Schools Crucial to NJ’s Future
John Mooney | February 21, 2014
Group vows support, if not financial backing, for key generator of workforce of the future
New Jersey’s vocational and technical schools got a big boost yesterday when a new coalition of more than 100 businesses said the schools should get the support -- and funding – they need to keep preparing students for the workforce of the future.
Led by the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, representatives of the New Jersey Employer Coalition for Technical Education gathered for a Statehouse press conference and pledged to promote the importance of the county-run schools as they vie for their share of resources in a state with an abundance of educational needs.
“The bottom line is jobs are going unfilled in New Jersey because employers cannot find workers with the right skills,” said Melanie Willoughby, senior vice president of the NJBIA.
The business group’s expression of support for vo-tech schools comes at a time when the state’s funding for public education continues to stagnate, if not shrink, while a wide range of public schools vie for help. It also comes as the county schools – some of which now dominate the list of the state’s highest-performing schools -- continue to shift to more career-oriented and advanced programs.
Vocational and technical schools have often felt they were getting short shrift in the state’s formula for aid to schools -- and the timing of yesterday’s expression of support came less than a week before Gov. Chris Christie is to present his fiscal 2014 state budget.
School and business leaders didn’t mention the upcoming budget, but they did enlist some high-profile support for yesterday’s announcement with the presence of state Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.
“This is one of the things that is among my main focuses,” said Prieto, who is a plumber and code official by trade. “I come from the trades, and this is so important. Technology education is an economic engine for the state of New Jersey, a place for these individuals to have a different pathway.”
“Schools steer kids away from vocational schools, but the reason they are so important is every job is valuable and important,” said Sweeney, himself an ironworker by trade. “Schools often think about their scores and who goes to this or that (college), rather than what is the best fit for the student.“
Still, on the eve of the unveiling of the state budget, there were no assurances that vocational programs will fare any better than the rest of the public education sector in coming deliberations, and there were no overt pledges by the new coalition that it would be pitching in financially just yet, either.
“We’ll see,” said Judy Savage, director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational and Technical Schools, afterward about the possibility of future financial support from business and industry.
“We expressly said we were not asking them to pay to be part of the coalition,” she said. “That is not what this is about, but instead it’s about finding new ways to engage employers.”
Willoughby, the NJBIA vice president, added later that several companies, such as PSE&G and BMW, have already made financial contributions to vocational schools, and there may be more to come.
But she, too, said the focus was more on engaging businesses in supporting schools that can help them directly. The coalition cited a number of partnerships already under way in the schools.
She said the recent emphasis by the Christie administration and others on so-called “college and career readiness” in the new Common Core State Standards, and the associated testing, appears to have left out the career piece.
“It’s college readiness, but not really career readiness,” Willoughby said of the standards and testing. “When you talk about the Common Core, you are not really addressing someone in the hospital looking to a healthcare career or someone in an IT setting who needs to deal with the crisis of the moment.”
“We want them to be career-ready, as well as college-ready,” Willoughby said.
Garden State Coalition of Schools