|10-20-15 Education in the News|
NJ Spotlight -Schools Seeking Renewal Of Charters Also Asking To Increase Enrollment…Nine applicants, including prominent networks operating in Newark, ask state to let them add more students
JOHN MOONEY | OCTOBER 20, 2015
With more than a quarter of New Jersey’s charter schools up for renewal this year, almost half of them are also asking to expand enrollment in what could be a pivotal year for the state’s charter movement.
The state Department of Education last night released the applications of 20 charter schools seeking their five-year renewals, usually a relatively routine process.
But it turns out that nine of them -- including all the major charter networks operating in Newark, as well as prominent ones in Camden and Paterson – are asking to increase enrollment.
In addition, the education department said another six applications had been filed by the Oct. 15 deadline to open new charter schools, including one that would be a conversion of a public-school district program in Newark.
The department provided little addition information, other than releasing the voluminous applications themselves. It’s been a busy week for the department, as it is gearing up for the first release of PARCC scores today.
Nonetheless, a few of the charter applications are notable, and there is sure to be significantly more debate about them.
For instance, TEAM Academy in Newark – among the state’s largest networks – has announced that it seeks to open five more schools in the city and nearly triple its enrollment there.
North Star Academy Charter Schools, another large network, has already been approved for three more schools in Newark, including one that has already generated protests. The local Planning Board last night held a crowded hearing on a proposal for a new school in the Central Ward.
The LEAP Academy charter network in Camden, one of that city’s first, is also seeking to expand, as are the Robert Treat and Merit Prep charter schools in Newark.
Here’s the complete list of charter schools seeking to expand:
The applicants to open new charter schools are:
Star Ledger – Baraka calls potential Newark charter school expansion 'highly irresponsible'
NEWARK — Mayor Ras Baraka sharply criticized a charter school organization's plans to expand its reach in Newark, saying it could come at the expense of children in the city's struggling public schools.
The mayor's comments come nearly a week after the KIPP network formally announced it wouldseek the state's permission to build five new schools and nearly triple their current enrollment. Uncommon Schools, which currently runs 11 North Star Academy charters around the city, is scheduled to presentplans for a new facility to the city's Central Planning Board Monday night.
The possibility of adding up to half dozen new charters, which are publicly funded but privately run, has caused alarm among public school advocates, who fear the influx might further drain resources in a district already struggling with overcrowding and a stubborn budget deficit.
In a written statement addressing the KIPP expansion, Baraka echoed many of their concerns, saying it could "inflict more damage to the fragile education infrastructure in our school district."
"To move forward in this manner without any consideration of the impact on students is highly irresponsible and shows no consideration for the majority of children in the Newark Public School system," he said.
The mayor also appeared to weigh in on the matter on Twitter Sunday.
Baraka has been among the fiercest critics of the state's control over the public school district, which many consider responsible for the spread of charters, which now educate more than 30 percent of Newark students.
Former Superintendent of Schools Cami Anderson was an education reform champion whose controversial "One Newark" open enrollment plan expanded space for charters in district schools. Her replacement, former education commissioner Christopher Cerf, shares a similar background.
After Anderson's exit earlier this year, however, Baraka brokered a deal with Gov. Chris Christie to return control of the district to local officials after more than 20 years, though a board appointed to oversee that process have warned it could be years before the transition is complete.
Asked if he had concerns about what the system might look like after local control was restored, Baraka reiterated that his goal was to empower the city to address financial mismanagement and other systemic issues plaguing the district. The spread of charters, he said, had "nothing to do with it."
"When local control is returned to the citizens of Newark - as Jersey City just experienced - we will begin to address these matters from an organic and inclusive position," he said.
Editor's note: This article has been amended to clarify that Baraka was addressing only the proposed KIPP expansion.
NJ Spotlight - State’s Tax Revenues For First Quarter Offer Reason For Cautious Optimism…Five percent hike bodes well for budget, but quirk in calendar, change in reporting method may skew numbers
JOHN REITMEYER | OCTOBER 19, 2015
The latest tax-collection figures released by New Jersey’s Department of Treasury suggest that the state budget was in decent shape after the first quarter of the new fiscal year.
But the numbers offer some reason for caution moving forward.
The good news is that overall tax collections through the first three months of the fiscal year that began July 1 were growing by nearly 5 percent compared to the same period during the prior fiscal year. That put revenues after the first quarter comfortably ahead of the projected 3.4 percent growth-rate goal that Gov. Chris Christie’s administration has set for the full fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Tax collections appeared even better for the month of September -- an important early month in the budget year because of quarterly payments that come due – with a full 7 percent rate of revenue growth compared to September 2014.
That success, however, was boosted this year by a quirk in the calendar that gave September 2015 one extra pay period compared to September 2014, a point that Treasury officials made clear in a news release that accompanied the tax-collection figures issued Friday.
“Year-to-date totals are encouraging, especially in the important month of September, and recent collections have exceeded initial estimates from the department,” said Robert Romano, the state’s acting treasurer. “However, we remain mindful that it is still very early in the fiscal year and we must carefully monitor the volatility of some of the state’s major revenue sources.”
Treasury’s monthly tax-collection reports, though highly technical in nature, are important because they help demonstrate whether the overall state budget is operating on target, ahead of projections, or running with a shortfall.
Since New Jersey’s constitution requires a balanced budget, any shortfalls must be made up with cuts or other offsetting adjustments by the time the fiscal year ends on June 30.
Making the revenue goal is necessary this year because Christie, a second-term Republican, boosted spending by about $1 billion to $33.8 billion in the budget he signed into law in late June.
In recent years, when Christie’s fiscal goals haven’t been met, his administration has been forced to delay property tax relief payments, reduce budgeted contributions into the public-employee pension system, and rely more heavily on borrowing for transportation projects to keep the budget balanced.
Despite the promising early news on tax collections, it’s not exactly clear how well Christie’s latest budget is situated after the first three months of the fiscal year. That’s because Christie, who is now seeking the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination, has changed the way the state issues its monthly revenue reports.
Under a policy he began last year, the reports now focus more heavily on growth-rate measurements for each tax source and tax collections overall. That format replaced the side-by-side comparisons of tax collections to actual budget targets for each tax source in precise dollar amounts that prior administrations from both parties had been using.
For example, the latest revenue report indicated that the state collected $2.28 billion in income-tax revenue during the first three months of the new fiscal year, growing by 8 percent above the $2.1 billion collected during the first quarter of the prior fiscal year.
The 8 percent growth rate looks good compared to the projected 3.9 percent growth rate Christie has set for the income tax through June 30, and the projected 3.4 percent growth rate established for all state tax collections for the 2016 fiscal year.
But left out of the revenue report under Christie’s new format is exactly how $2.28 billion compares to the exact dollar amount that Treasury expected to collect from the income tax during the first quarter of the new fiscal year. Since Christie changed the reporting format those details have only been released by Treasury in response to public-records requests.
In addition to the income tax, other revenue sources that doing better than their year-end growth rates through the first three months of the fiscal year included the sales, motor fuels and inheritance taxes. Falling behind projected growth rates during the first quarter were the corporate-business, casino, realty transfer and tobacco taxes.
Christie’s administration stopped providing the more-detailed side-by-side revenue comparisons last year in the wake of a series of credit-rating downgrades issued by major Wall Street rating agencies following several state budget shortfalls.
Those credit-rating downgrades – all three major rating agencies have lowered the state’s debt grade by three steps during Christie’s tenure -- have left New Jersey with the second-worst credit rating among U.S. states, behind only Illinois.
But there has also been some more promising news for New Jersey’s budget this year, including a $200 million tax-revenue windfall the state enjoyed after April income-tax collections were tallied.
And Christie doubled the size of the state’s budget surplus fund when the new fiscal year began July 1. Maintaining only slim reserves can leave a state more vulnerable to revenue volatility and shortfalls, and in recent years New Jersey has compared poorly to other U.S. states in rankings of budget reserves as a share of overall spending.
This year, all of the rating agencies have left New Jersey’s debt grade unchanged, although Fitch Ratings offered a positive sign, moving New Jersey’s credit outlook from “negative” to “stable.”
Garden State Coalition of Schools