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3-27-12 Dept of Education Budget, Anti-Bullying law revised, Supreme Court Nominations in the News
NJ Spotlight - What Do Budget Reviews Mean for Education Department?...Christie’s plan boosts spending at agency to implement school reforms “…The addition of more staff is a good first step for those who have worried that the department is getting stretched thin. At the same time it is only adding to the responsibilities for itself and for districts.“The department needs to have a greater breadth in order for it to be truly supportive for districts,” said Lynne Strickland, director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools...“If they are beefing up, that’s only better for all...”

Asbury Park Press - Christie signs fix to New Jersey anti-bullying law

The Record-Column-Stile: Governor might bend in scuffle with Dems

Press of Atlantic City - "These are exciting times for charter schools," acting N.J. education chief tells conference

NJ Spotlight - What Do Budget Reviews Mean for Education Department?...Christie’s plan boosts spending at agency to implement school reforms  “…The addition of more staff is a good first step for those who have worried that the department is getting stretched thin. At the same time it is only adding to the responsibilities for itself and for districts.“The department needs to have a greater breadth in order for it to be truly supportive for districts,” said Lynne Strickland, director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, a mostly suburban school organization. “If they are beefing up, that’s only better for all of us.”

By John Mooney, March 27, 2012 in Education|Post a Comment

When the state Department of Education starts off the legislature’s budget reviews this week, much of the attention will be on the $11.7 billion in state aid that the agency distributes to more than 500 school districts across New Jersey.

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But also of interest will be the budget for the department itself, and the money Gov. Chris Christie is putting aside to implement and administer his education reform agenda.

It has been a sore spot, as critics have questioned the department’s own capacity for putting in place and overseeing what is an aggressive agenda based on teacher quality, student testing, and school performance.

It appears the governor is paying attention to meeting those needs. According to Christie’s budget detail submitted last month, the education department will be one of the few in the executive branch to see a significant increase for direct services and administration, from $66.1 million to $69.4 million, or about 5 percent.

That is still well below two years ago when it topped $73 million, but Christie has nevertheless proposed adding 50 personnel to a department that has been decimated in the past year. The budget lists a total of 404 state-funded positions.

The budget detail outlines that the vast bulk of the increase will go to two areas: $1.7 million to staffing the new Regional Achievement Centers (RACs), including 19 new employees; and $1.7 million for additional high school testing that is being rolled out over the next several years. There are also signals of money continuing to be steered toward non-traditional programs, such as charters and virtual schools.

Acting education commissioner Chris Cerf and his top staff yesterday would not discuss the details of the department’s budget, saying they would save it for Thursday’s meeting before the Senate budget committee. The department is the first to go before the committee in an agency-by-agency budget review process that is expected to go on for more than a month.

None of the new initiatives come as surprises, even if they are waiting to be fleshed out. Maybe more notable is that the RACs and testing programs are the only significant increases in Christie’s budget plan for the department, with the vast bulk of the department’s spending not much changing.

Cerf this winter announced the new RACs as the centerpieces of his effort to focus on the state’s lowest performing districts and schools. The RACs will be spread across the state, staffed with education experts and replacing some of the functions of the existing county offices in providing more direct support and assistance.

The department has begun interviewing for the new positions, including new “master educators” who will be each center’s director. State officials said that much of the staffing also would come from department employees reassigned from elsewhere.

The new high school testing is also on the way, although its details are a closely guarded secret. The budget outline said that the $1.7 million would go toward implementation of “five new end-of-course exams,” presumably similar to the subject tests that the state has tried with biology and algebra.

Department spokesman Justin Barra said they would be part of a nationwide testing initiative known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) that the Christie administration has signed on to, including the extensive use of online and multiple testing in each grade. It is unclear whether the state would go beyond PARCC testing for high schools, though, since that program only includes tests in language arts and mathematics.

Schools are waiting for the release of a report from a task force appointed by Christie last fall to look at high school graduation requirements and how they can better meet the skills needed for college and career. The task force was headed by Cerf’s chief of staff, David Hespe, and following several public hearings and discussions, it filed its report at the end of the past year. The report has yet to be released to the public.

A few other line items drew attention from lobbyists and others as well. The budget follows the divisions that Cerf has created in the department since he took the job at the start of 2011, including a new section for Innovation that will be headed by an assistant commissioner yet to be named.

Under the new budget, $1.6 million will go to that line item, the same amount as in this year’s budget. A good chunk of that money this year was for the expanded charter school office, now with 10 employees, officials said. It appears the department will maintain that amount for next year, although some could be carried over.

“It’s a budget that recognizes the new organizational structure of the department,” said Michael Vrancik, chief lobbyist for the New Jersey School Boards Association. “Some of those functions like the RACs have yet to come to fruition, so we’re anxious to see how they operate. And for others, we’re anxious to see what they mean.”

The addition of more staff is a good first step for those who have worried that the department is getting stretched thin. At the same time it is only adding to the responsibilities for itself and for districts.

“The department needs to have a greater breadth in order for it to be truly supportive for districts,” said Lynne Strickland, director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, a mostly suburban school organization. “If they are beefing up, that’s only better for all of us.”

 

 

Asbury Park Press - Christie signs fix to New Jersey anti-bullying law

10:51 PM, Mar. 26, 2012 |  written by Statehouse Bureau

 

TRENTON — A bill to provide funding the state’s anti-bullying statute has been signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie.

The measure, which appropriates $1 million for grants to help school districts comply with the law, was needed because the state Council on Local Mandates effectively scuttled the statute in January by declaring it an unfunded mandate.

Christie, along with several sponsors of the bill, announced a fix to the measure in early March. The bill was fast-tracked through the Legislature and signed by Christie Monday.

“This bipartisan solution will help school districts implement the new law, without changing the context of the law, which means that our goal of protecting the countless students who are at the mercy of bullies day in and day out remains intact,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, one of the sponsors of the bill.

The new law also creates a seven-member panel to help mitigate local school districts’ concerns about the measure. In addition, districts applying for grant money to help implement pieces of the law would need to certify that they tried to find no-cost help to comply.

Funding complaints

The anti-bullying measure, considered one of the most comprehensive in the nation, called for school districts to comply with a number of initiatives to prevent bullying and educate students to the dangers of the activity.

Several school districts lodged complaints with the Council of Local Mandates, saying the state was forcing them to spend money without providing a funding source. The council agreed, a ruling that gave the governor and Legislature a limited amount of time to find a fix or the law would be invalidated.

 

The Record-Column-Stile: Governor might bend in scuffle with Dems

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 Last Updated: Tuesday March 27, 2012, 6:55 Am By Charles Stile Columnist

 

Less than an hour after Democrats rejected state Supreme Court nominee Phillip Kwon, Governor Christie realized that his enemies had already set their next high-priority political goal.

And this is it: A Democrat as Kwon's replacement.

"I know that's what they want," a deflated Christie said last Thursday night.Seething but struggling to portray himself as a big-picture statesman, Christie rattled off a litany of arguments against the idea. He argued that Democratic lawmakers are usurping his constitutional power to make court picks — if they want to shape the court to their liking, then they should elect a Democratic governor in 2013. He complained how he had played by the rules of tradition but it was the Democrats who had reset the rules so they could embarrass him and deliver a pound of flesh to party activists.

But there was one word Christie didn't say — no.

That's because Christie understands why the Democrats flexed their political muscle this time instead of scurrying for protection behind their party bosses. He recognizes that Democrats will mobilize the same party-line opposition if he replaces Kwon with a Republican or another candidate like Kwon, a dubious independent who had spent most of his career as a Republican.

Democrats fear that Christie is trying to stack the court with conservative, pro-Christie rubber stamps who will dismantle much of the Democratic agenda of the last generation — housing, environmental regulation, public school funding — or reject new priorities, like a law legalizing gay marriages.

Seen through the Democrats' lens, Kwon was a key piece of his grand design for an effective 5-2 Republican majority, a move that could give him unprecedented power and upend a tradition of tipping the court's partisan balance with nominees from the governor's party.

Kwon would have joined two Republican associate justices, Helen Hoens and Anne Patterson, a Christie nominee approved last year. Also included in the Democratic calculation is Jaynee LaVecchia, a former official in Republican administrations of Christie Whitman and Thomas H. Kean. LaVecchia is a registered independent — and has demonstrated a tough-to-categorize independence on the court. But Democrats are counting her, at least for this debate, as a right-of-center moderate who can be counted on to join a new Christie-packed majority.

"She's served in various Republican administrations, and came to the court as a quasi- Republican and is still viewed

as that, regardless of her opinions," said Sen. Nicholas Scutari of Union County, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman.

Waiting in the wings is Christie's next nominee, Bruce A. Harris, an African-American and openly gay lawyer from Chatham Borough and a Republican. He would have become Christie's fifth vote if approved, Democrats say.

The court's two Democrats are Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and Associate Justice Barry Albin.

Harris is expected to face a tough grilling — his courtroom experience in limited and he spent most of his career working on real estate deals — at his hearing, which may come next month. Harris has also riled some liberals because of his vow to recuse himself from possible gay marriage rulings; Harris has publicly advocated for legalizing same-sex marriage.

But many expect Harris to squeak through the nomination vetting — Democrats will not want to run the risk of alienating the party's African-American and gay constituencies.

Assuming that Harris survives, then all eyes turn to Christie's replacement for Kwon. If Christie picks a Republican, the Democrats, backed by their labor and special-interest group allies, would certainly mobilize to block it in a reprise of last week.

That leaves Christie with two possibilities. One would be to replace Kwon with an acceptable Democratic nominee. That would give the court three Democrats, three Republicans, and one independent in LaVecchia, a lineup that would be more palatable to Democrats.

Finding a lower-case democratic lawyer or judge, who has earned respect with clients and politicos from both parties, someone known for pragmatism and smarts, not ideological zeal, is not impossible.

The other possibility is for Christie to pick a career independent unlike Kwon, who was suspected of becoming one last year in hopes of smoothing his path to the nomination. That would leave the court balance at three Republicans, two Democrats and two independents.

As I said, Christie scoffed at that suggestion on Thursday, but didn't rule it out. It's also significant that Christie refused to blame Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, on Kwon's defeat even though Sweeney orchestrated the party-line vote against the nomination.

Perhaps more than any issue, Sweeney has served as an implacable counterweight on court nominees — he blocked the Patterson nomination for nearly a year in a protest over Christie's dumping of Associate Justice John Wallace in May 2010.

"I don't have the luxury of letting this poison my relationship," Christie said of Sweeney and the Senate Democrats. "I have a job to do."

Christie could have easily been referring to a wide range of issues he needs to negotiate with Sweeney and the Democrats — tax cuts and the reorganization of higher education, for starters. It doesn't make sense to lambaste him or his members as "do-nothing" Democrats, like he used to.

That rhetoric used to get him headlines, but it won't get him his court. He needs to deal with the enemy instead of attacking it. He needs to better "know what they want."

Email: stile@northjersey.com

Press of Atlantic City - "These are exciting times for charter schools," acting N.J. education chief tells conference

Posted: Monday, March 26, 2012 7:59 pm | Updated: 8:03 pm, Mon Mar 26, 2012. By Sarah Watson

Tighter standards, better ways to measure progress, increased accountability and an easier regulatory environment are what acting N.J. Department of Education chief Christopher Cerf says he has planned for the state’s charter schools as a way to encourage growth and educational quality.

“These are exciting times for charter schools,” said Cerf, speaking Monday at the New Jersey Charter School Association conference at Bally’s Atlantic City Hotel & Casino. “It’s also a time for change, and it’s a time when we have to live with an increasingly vocal and organized opposition.”

Cerf told several hundred charter school teachers, board members, parents and students that the Christie administration strongly supports the schools as an alternative to traditional public schools.

“I absolutely expect an increasingly friendly, lighter touch, regulatory environment,” Cerf said.

However, Cerf said, he plans to enact stronger standards for granting charter school applications and enhancing accountability for those charter schools that are failing standards.

Two charters did not get renewed this year, including Pleasantech Academy Charter School in Pleasantville.

“We have to do this. This is not an optional thing,” Cerf said. “I deeply understand that this can’t just be about test scores.”

Association President Carlos Perez said in opening remarks that charter school students also are public school students and they should get the same level of funding. Currently, charter schools do not receive money toward facilities and must pay for housing the school and other building-related expenses out of their operating budget.

Perez also warned that state legislators “are looking to pass a law that would stop the growth of charter schools.” The senate bill, if enacted, would require voters to approve new charter schools in their town.

More than 700 charter school teachers, board members, parents and students are attending the conference, which runs through today.

Contact Sarah Watson: 609-272-7216 SWatson@pressofac.com

 

 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828