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3-16-12 Education Issues in the News - 1M for Anti-Bullying...New Voucher bill...Charter Schools...State Aid
Star Ledger - Bill that would give $1M to schools for anti-bullying program passes in Assembly, Senate

NJ Spotlight - Long Debated, Legislature Revives Talk of School Vouchers…New measure is scaled back to just a few districts, yet misses key backer

The Record - Assembly advances bill to give NJ communities veto power over charter school applications

Patch.com - NJ Top Education Official and Superintendent Talk Budget, State Aid…East Windsor Regional School District's state aid is up about $1.2 million this year.

NJ Spotlight - Interactive Map: State Aid to NJ Public Schools…Most communities are still working with less than they were budgeted for in 2009-2010

Star Ledger - Bill that would give $1M to schools for anti-bullying program passes in Assembly, Senate

Published: Thursday, March 15, 2012, 6:19 PM Updated: Friday, March 16, 2012, 6:38 AM

By Matt Friedman/Statehouse BureauThe Star-Ledger

TRENTON — Both houses of the state Legislature today swiftly passed a bill aimed at rescuing New Jersey’s new anti bullying law, which a state panel said forces mandates on schools without providing state funds to pay for them.

Instead of leaving school districts on their own to meet the strict new requirements for handling bullying cases, the bill (S1879) would appropriate $1 million that school districts would apply for to fund anti-bullying programs.

To get the grants, districts would first have to show they’ve looked into free alternatives provided by the state Department of Education and other organizations.

The bill — which passed 35-0 in the Senate and 72-2 in the Assembly — would also create a seven-member task force to guide school districts on how to implement the new law.

The point of the bill is to fix an anti-bullying law enacted last year. The Council on Local Mandates ruled in January that it imposes costs for staffing and training on school districts without paying for them. The council’s ruling, however, won’t be formal until it puts it out in writing — likely later this month.

"If the Council on Mandates says we have in fact imposed an unfunded mandate, then the bill is negated and the law no longer exists. So we must do it today," said state Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington), a sponsor.

Allen said she’s surveyed towns in her district about the law and found it has had positive effects so far.

"Some have found issues and we’re working through them as so many places across the state are," she said. "But the bottom line is we do believe that children are much safer, they have a much better envieronment, and it will only get better as this fix goes into effect."

A survey conducted by the New Jersey School Boards Association in conjunction with two other groups found school officials from about 200 school districts said the bill cost a combined $2 million. The association’s spokesman, Frank Belluscio, said the bill is a "step in the right direction."

"Our desire is to maintain this law, but it needs some funding and we have to look at the administrative burden. Going forward there is a need for further definition and clearer direction," he said.


NJ Spotlight - Long Debated, Legislature Revives Talk of School Vouchers…New measure is scaled back to just a few districts, yet misses key backer

After a winter hiatus, a trimmed-down Opportunity Scholarship Act proposal is back in the legislature with a prominent new sponsor in the state Assembly but the loss of another in the Senate.

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State Assemblyman Angel Fuentes (D-Camden) yesterday said he filed a new bill that would include just seven districts as part of the pilot to provide scholarships -- or vouchers -- to low-income students to go to schools of their choice, public or private.

More notably, the second primary sponsor on the bill is state Assemblyman Louis Greenwald (D-Camden), the Assembly majority leader who has said he would support a smaller pilot and now has his name attached to one.

"I am not a believer in vouchers [across the state], but I do believe in a few select communities where children are a prisoner of their own poverty and denied a right to an education," Greenwald said yesterday.

The new Assembly bill comes a week after state Sen. Thomas Kean Jr. (R-Union) filed a new version of the bill he has long sponsored but also in fewer districts. But it was missing a key sponsor, state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), the longtime and prominent backer of the bill who gave it key support on the Democratic side.

Lesniak yesterday said he dropped his sponsorship for a variety of reasons, including the closing by the Archdiocese of Newark of another prominent Catholic school in his hometown of Elizabeth. St. Patrick High School, the basketball powerhouse, might have been saved if a voucher bill passed, he said. The archdiocese had been a prominent backer of the long-debated bill.

"We asked them to keep it open for a year, and they turned their back on it," said Lesniak. "Let's just say there hasn't been as much enthusiasm for the bill as there has been in the past."

Lesniak would not elaborate on the other reasons his name was no longer on the bill, and he did not rule out coming back. "My enthusiasm for it has lost a lot of steam, but that's not to say it can't get reenergized," he said.

Kean said last night he was hopeful Lesniak's support would return. "He'll be back," Kean said. "It's an important bill and we've worked together many a year on it. We'll continue to work together."

The personal and political dramas of who is in and who is out as supporters come as backers hope to revive the bill in a new session of the legislature. Gov. Chris Christie has continually called it one of his top education priorities, and yesterday a group of clergy leaders held an event in the Statehouse to press for its passage.

But for close to a decade, every time it appears to gain ground, the bill then suffers a setback and disappears from public view for a few months. It faces furious opposition, most notably from the New Jersey Education Association and other education groups that see it as an attack on public schools.

Last year, the bill won approval in another legislative committee, but it never could get posted for vote of the full Senate or Assembly. Even among backers, a big issue remained the size and scope of the bill, at times involving as many as 30 districts and last year more than a dozen.

The new versions seek to address that with a pilot half that size. Fuentes and Greenwald's bill would include seven districts: Newark, Camden, Passaic, Elizabeth, Lakewood, Asbury Park and Orange. Kean includes those seven districts plus Perth Amboy.

"Seven is a rational number, and all are districts with significantly failing schools," said Greenwald.

"We're looking at lucky seven," added Fuentes, although he said he was approaching legislators to add Paterson as well.

There are a couple of other changes from previous versions, including a new mechanism for accepting students who are currently enrolled in private schools by limiting it to those who would be changing schools anyway. Both bills would also cut back on the administrative costs of the program.

"I'm really optimistic," said Kean of his bill's prospects. "I think there is some great momentum in these bills."

Greenwald wasn't so sure, but said this may be a new start to the dialogue. "They still have a lot of work to do, but you can't give them the opportunity without something to show people," he said. "This is where that is."


The Record - Assembly advances bill to give NJ communities veto power over charter school applications

Thursday, March 15, 2012 Last updated: Thursday March 15, 2012, 7:05 PM

The Assembly voted Thursday to give communities veto power over attempts to open new charter schools.

The bill says that after the state education commissioner approves a charter school application, local voters or the board of school estimate must also give the go-ahead. Charter school boosters and the Christie administration are adamantly against the bill and say it would bring the growth of charters to a halt, because anti-charter activists could mobilize opposition to any proposal.

The bill passed 45-27, with four abstentions. Supporters said that it’s fair and democratic for local taxpayers to have a voice in whether charters open in their districts. Patrick Diegnan, D-Middlesex, head of the Assembly Education Committee, said in a statement that “local input will help ensure that the charter schools that are created fit the needs of the community.”

Carlos Perez, president of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, said no state has a local referendum as a primary mechanism for approving a charter school, and passage of the bill would be a “significant setback.” The state Senate has yet to consider it.

“We have 20,000 kids on waitlists for charter schools,” Perez said. “Families are voting with their feet and demanding high-quality charters. Instead, we have legislation focused on stopping charters.”

Perez’s group is pushing for different legislation that would overhaul the 1995 charter school law to beef up accountability and create new entities authorized to open and oversee charters. Now only the state Education Department can approve them.

The Christie administration has pushed to expand charters, especially in failing urban districts, to serve as havens of innovation and to give children better options. Some of the most vocal protests against charters have been in Teaneck, Millburn and other suburbs where taxpayers argue their traditional public schools are strong and shouldn’t lose funding to charters.

Charters are funded by taxpayers but are independently operated. Currently, 80 charters serve more than 25,000 children statewide.

Email: brody@northjersey.com

Patch.com - NJ Top Education Official and Superintendent Talk Budget, State AidEast Windsor Regional School District's state aid is up about $1.2 million this year.

·         ByAshley Peskoe

Superintendent Edward Forsthoffer briefed Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf on the proposed school budget and impact of the district’s state aid allocation on Thursday, before giving the state’s top education official a tour of Hightstown High School.

This year the East Windsor Regional School District received about $18.3 million in aid, up from about $17.1 last year, and will mainly be used to purchase a comprehensive K-5 literacy program and hire additional staff, Forsthoffer told Cerf.

“We weren’t happy with our elementary school literacy scores, so we’re really investing in a comprehensive program,” Forsthoffer said, noting if not for state aid they would have needed to purchase the program through a series of installments.

The proposed budget also calls for the hiring of an in-house behaviorist, two special education teachers, three high school core content teachers, three elementary basic skills teachers, a bilingual teacher and restoring five coach and assistant coach positions.

“This district is quite typical in one respect and that is you have a lot of high performing kids,” Cerf. “But you clearly have also got a couple of schools here that have pretty big gaps and that may be your LEP (Limited English Proficient) population.”

Forsthoffer told Cerf the biggest difficulty the district has faced is having a large bilingual population.

“Every districts going to have something that they have to spend more time or attention on and that’s an area we do because we want to make sure that the students are as prepared when they graduate high school whether they came here speaking English or not,” he said.

About 90 percent of districts are receiving more state aid year to year, and Cerf said although every district is different, this year money is mainly being used on teacher training for the common core curriculum, investments in educator evaluation systems and hiring.

“How much you spend is important, but how well you spend it is certainly equally important,” Cerf said, noting that the past few years forced districts to think about what matters and prioritize accordingly.

“The governor is actually able to say now that he has invested more money in state aid effective this coming year than any other governor has done before,” Cerf said, noting the Corzine administration cut a billion dollars in state aid to schools and substituted it with federal aid.

Since the school board election was moved to November and the proposed budget falls under the 2 percent cap with a 1.73 percent tax levy, there will not be a public vote. The final public hearing on the budget will be held March 26.

NJ Spotlight - Interactive Map: State Aid to NJ Public Schools…Most communities are still working with less than they were budgeted for in 2009-2010

By Colleen O'Dea

The proposed New Jersey budget for the new fiscal year holds a modest, but welcome, increase in state aid to school districts. But it’s still not enough to make up for the large cuts made shortly after Gov. Chris Christie took office.

The map shows the change in state allocations to schools -- equalization aid, adequacy aid, transportation aid, special education aid, security aid, adjustment aid, and choice aid. Communities in green are slated to get more aid in the school year that begins July 1 than was originally proposed in 2009-2010 by Gov. Jon Corzine. All other communities will still be getting less.

Ridgewood is receiving 32.5 percent less aid this year than it would have under Corzine's proposal. Glen Rock checks in at 40.9 percent less.

When Christie took office, he quickly declared a state of fiscal emergency and withheld from schools an average of 5.2 percent, or $450 million, of the aid Corzine had budgeted for them. He cut an additional 8 percent in 2010-2011. This year, districts saw a 3 percent increase; Christie has proposed a 1.7 percent hike for next year.

Overall, districts are still slated to get 8.5 percent less in formula aid than three years earlier: $7.9 billion for 2012-13, compared with the original budgeted amount of $8.6 billion for 2009-2010.

For the sake of more easily mapping the data, school aid was apportioned by municipality. Click on a municipality to find the amount of aid scheduled and the percent change since 2009-2010.

The map shows aid changes for the primary K-12, K-8, or K-6 district that students in a community attend. For communities where students attend a regional high school district or another district’s high school, the data for that secondary district is available by clicking on that municipality.

The largest dollar loss would be in Newark, which is to get $82.6 million less next year than was budgeted in 2009-2010. Both Red Bank and West Wildwood are to get less than half the aid they got three years ago.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, is slated to get $22.5 million more. Deal and Stockton, both small K-8 districts, stand to get 13 times more aid, due to large infusions of money available under an expanded interdistrict choice initiative. That funding is being given to districts that have agreed to accept children from other communities, with the aid replacing the local tax levy cost for each child they host.



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