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5-19-15 Education and Related Issues in the News

The Record - No money left in this year's budget to cover $1.57B pension cut, N.J. legislative budget officer says

May 19, 2015, 12:48 PM    Last updated: Tuesday, May 19, 2015, 12:49 PM


No matter what the state Supreme Court rules, there is simply no more money left this year to pay $1.57 billion in funding that Governor Christie cut from New Jersey's pension system, according the Legislature’s independent budget office.

With a month and a half left before the end of the fiscal year, the vast majority of the state's $32.5 billion budget already has been paid out, said David Rosen, the budget chief at the Office of Legislative Services.

“It would be making a pretty extraordinary requirement at this point in the fiscal year for us to come up with the money,” Rosen testified before the state Senate budget committee on Tuesday, when asked about the ongoing court case.

Using his veto powers before signing the budget, Christie cut a $2.25 billion pension payment to $681 million, defying a pension-reform law he signed in 2011 requiring the higher payment. A coalition of public-worker unions sued the governor, arguing the 2011 law gave them a constitutionally protected, contractual right to the higher payment.

The Supreme Court is hearing the case on an emergency appeal by Christie, who lost the first round at the trial court. The justices, who heard arguments earlier this month, are expected to rule before the June 30 deadline for a new state budget to take effect.

Rosen said that at this point in the fiscal calendar, reversing Governor Christie's funding cuts for the pension system is not "fiscally or physically possible."

“If the Supreme Court were to direct the state to make the full pension payment before June 30, I'm not sure that that's fiscally or physically possible,” he said, citing “the constraints that we have on how we could come up with that money.”

The last school aid payments will be “out the door in the next week or two.” Municipal aid has been paid out in full. And the state could not find the $1.57 billion even if it furloughed all its workers through the end of the fiscal year, Rosen told lawmakers.

Some contracts could be frozen and some smaller payments withheld, but it wouldn’t be enough, he said.

The Supreme Court could issue a ruling requiring part of the payment, experts have said, or it could allow Christie’s funding cuts to stand this fiscal year but order full payments in future years. In his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year, Christie is planning to cut a $3.1 billion pension payment he had promised to $1.3 billion. The Republican governor says there is simply not enough economic growth in the state to meet pension-funding requirements, and Christie has vetoed a series of Democratic bills to raise taxes.

New Jersey’s state pension system is 51 percent funded, according to the latest actuarial report, and has $40 billion in unfunded liabilities. Financial experts say it is one of the worst funded systems in the country, with enough money to pay only half of the retirement benefits workers and retirees have accrued. The state pension plans have 770,000 beneficiaries.

State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff is slated to testify before the budget committee later this afternoon.

Email: rizzo@northjersey.com


Star Ledger - PARCC: Five testing bills clear N.J. Senate panel

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By Adam Clark | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com The Star-Ledger
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on May 18, 2015 at 5:35 PM, updated May 18, 2015 at 5:38 PM

TRENTON — A New Jersey Senate panel on Monday approved a bill that would ban the state from withholding state funding to schools because of low PARCC participation rates.

The bill (S2881) was one of five testing-related bills that cleared the Senate Education Committee after nearly three hours of public testimony.

Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex), who introduced the bill, said she was "astonished" last month when she learned that the State Department of Education may consider withholding funding over the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams.

"While we do not have control over the federal government, we can assure that our state funding that we send to Trenton, the tax payers' money, is not withheld," Gill said Monday.

The bill has not yet been considered by the State Assembly.

State Education Commissioner David Hespe has long warned that U.S. Department of Education could penalize schools if fewer than 95 percent of students take their state tests, as required by federal law.

But the possibility of the state withholding funding was revealed last month during an NJ Advance Media interview with Hespe.

When asked what penalties schools that don't receive federal Title I funding could face, Hespe said "There could be the expectation that we withhold from them state dollars."

However, Hespe said that decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis, and the most likely response would be to require a school to complete a corrective action plan. He later stressed that the state does not want to penalize a school financially if it can find other ways to address the school's issues.

Across New Jersey, about 14 percent of high school juniors refused to take the computerized math and English tests, though participation was better among younger students, according to preliminary state figures.

Individual district and school participation rates have varied from a small percentage of students opting out to nearly 70 percent refusing PARCC at Montclair High School, according to districts.

Another bill (S2884) passed by the Education Committee on Monday would require schools to post test rates within 10 days of testing ending. The bill also calls for the Department of Education to post state participation rates by grade "within a reasonable time" after receiving information from the states.

Schools would also be required to provide more information to parents about standardizing testing under a third bill (S2923).

The proposal calls for schools to notify parents by Oct. 1 of any commercialized standardized tests and tell them the subject areas and grade levels tested, the range of testing dates, the time allotted for students to compete the tests and other information.

But parents panned the bill because it does not include key parts of a similar bill passed by the state Assembly, which would have forced schools to tell parents how much the tests costs and how its results could be used.

"Parents need to know what these assessments are being used for and how they affect which classes and programs their children may or may not get into" said Jill DeMaio, a parent from Monroe Township.

Committee chair Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) said she did not include those provisions because schools have other ways to tell parents how scores will be used and every school uses the tests differently. Additionally, it's difficult for schools to determine the exact cost since technology used for PARCC is also used for other purposes, she said.

The bills passed Monday are a step in the right direction, New Jersey Education Association President Wendell Steinhauer said. But the Senate can do more to protect students and teachers from PARCC, he said.

The state Assembly unanimously passed a bill (A4165) that would force schools to accommodate students refusing to take PARCC. Instead of supporting that bill, Ruiz introduced a resolution (SR129) calling on Hespe to develop guidelines that identify a range of appropriate polices schools can use for students who don't take PARCC.

Though the policies requested in the resolution would prohibit schools from punishing students, Steinhauer said a resolution isn't enough.

"Why should we settle for a resolution and hope that it helps when you have the power to pass a law?" Steinhauer said.

Ruiz said she could not support the Assembly bill because of the risk of losing federal funds if too many students refuse PARCC.

"It is not something I am willing to do, whether it is just a threat or not," she said.

The three other bills that passed Monday:

S2921: Requires background checks for employees of private entities that have access to student information and are under contract with the state Department of Education.

S2922: Requires the Department of Education to link on its website to a list of all third party individuals or vendors employed or retained by the department for work associated with state assessments

S2766 Prohibits the administration of commercially developed standardized tests to students in grades K-2. Makes exception for tests used to determined special service or entrance into gifted and talented programs.

All bills will now go before the full Senate for a vote.

The committee did not consider a bill that would place a three-year moratorium on using PARCC as a factor in teacher evaluations and student placement.

Ruiz said she has already asked the Department of Education to keep the weight of PARCC on teachers at 10 percent of their evaluation and no school is making placement decisions solely based on PARCC.

Adam Clark may be reached at adam_clark@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on twitter at @realAdamClark. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

NJ Spotlight - Education Issues – from PARCC to Superintendents’ Pay – Focus of State Senate…Democrats’ bills make their way through Senate committee but face two key obstacles – GOP lawmakers and Gov. Christie

John Mooney | May 19, 2015

It was a busy day for education bills before the state Senate yesterday, with several pieces of legislation advancing -- but with plenty of questions about whether any of them will ever become law.

The highlight was a crowded hearing before the Senate’s education committee, which reviewed a package of bills dealing with the state’s new PARCC exams.

In the end, the committee moved forward all of the bills, including one resolution calling for the establishment of guidelines for students whose families choose to “opt out” of the controversial tests and a second bill that would prohibit the state from withholding funds from schools with high opt-out numbers.

In the full session, the Senate approved a separate bill that would eliminate the state’s controversial cap on school superintendent pay.

The votes were all rebukes of key education initiatives under the Christie administration – but there was plenty of debate over whether they went far enough.

Each piece of legislation will have to overcome steep political odds, as Democrats and Republicans are clearly at odds over the proposals and it’s doubtful that Gov. Chris Christie will go along with any of them.

Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex), chair of the Assembly’s education committee and a co-sponsor of several of the bills, said yesterday that he doesn’t have high hopes at this point.

“Without sounding too political, I think a lot of this will have to be dealt with when we have another governor in office,” Diegnan said in an interview. “That’s just the reality.”

The round-up of the bills voted on yesterday:

  • Senate bill 1987: Prohibits the DOE from regulating the maximum salary amount a school district may pay its superintendent of schools. Passed the full Senate, 22-13.
  • S-2766: Prohibits administration of standardized assessments in kindergarten through second grade. Passed Senate education committee.
  • S-2844: Requires school districts to post on their websites information regarding student participation in certain assessments. Passed Senate education committee.
  • S-2811: Prohibits withholding of state school aid based on student participation rate on state assessments. Passed Senate education committee.
  • S-2922: Requires state to post on its website a list of all third-party individuals or vendors employed or retained by the state for work associated with state assessments. Passed Senate education committee.
  • S-2923: Requires school district or charter schools to provide notification to parents or guardians of enrolled student on upcoming administration of state assessments or commercially-developed standardized assessments. Passed Senate education committee.
  • Senate Resolution 129: Urges Commissioner of Education to develop guidelines on how students not participating in statewide assessment will be supervised and what alternate arrangements may be provided. Passed Senate education committee.


The Record - New Jersey Senate votes to rescind cap on superintendent pay

May 19, 2015, 11:41 AM    Last updated: Tuesday, May 19, 2015, 11:41 AM

Associated Press

TRENTON — New Jersey's state Senate is trying to undo Gov. Chris Christie's cap on how much school superintendents can be paid.

The Senate passed a bill Monday that would lift the restrictions that the administration put in place in 2011.

The cap varies by school district size, but under it, most superintendents cannot be paid more than the $175,000 the governor gets annually. It was imposed as the Republican governor was trying to root out waste in the state's public schools.

Some senators agreed with advocates who say the limit has been driving top school leaders to neighboring New York and Pennsylvania where they could make more money.

The Senate passed the bill lifting the restrictions by a 22-13 vote.

It has not yet been considered in the Assembly.

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