3-6-12 Education Issues in the News - Governor'sTask Force on Education Funding, Gifted and Talented Issues
Courier Post - Task force to study misspent school funding

Associated Press - Christie: Change the way at-risk students are counted

Bloomberg News - Christie May Replace Free-Lunch Count as Measure of Poverty

Press of Atlantic City - Lack of funding leaves New Jersey’s gifted and talented students at mercy of their schools

Courier Post - Task force to study misspent school funding

11:34 PM, Mar. 5, 2012 | Written by BOB JORDAN New Jersey Press Media


TRENTON — Saying three reports from state agencies “suggest that some of the state’s education dollars are being misdirected, and ultimately misappropriated and misspent,’’ Gov. Chris Christie on Monday said a task force will crack down on fraud and manipulation in school funding.

Christie said the work group will suggest overhauls and review cases of inaccurate counts within the free and reduced-cost lunch program as well as instances of local officials artificially lowering real estate values.

Those are parts of the formula that determines school aid, and manipulation can unfairly skew the proper placement “of tens of millions of dollars’’ with the districts, the Republican governor said.

Christie signed an executive order forming the volunteer New Jersey Education Funding Task Force.

The panel’s seven members will be selected with two weeks and they will be expected to produced a report in 120 days with “recommendations for the governor concerning those areas of the formula that may be susceptible to fraud or subject to outside manipulation,’’ the order states.

Christie was joined at a State House press conference announcing the initiative by state Sen. Michael Doherty, (R-Warren, Hunterdon), who in town hall meetings throughout the state has lectured on the funding flaws.

Doherty said some towns receive back only pennies on the dollar of the income taxes their residents pay to the state, with manipulation of the current system partly to blame.

Christie said Doherty “was the first person to bring this to my attention.’’

Changes are needed, Doherty said, “to bring fairness and equity and to tackle the property tax issue that’s been confronting all the people of New Jersey.’’

Problems with the school lunch program were underscored when the Elizabeth school board president and spouses of two district employees were accused of falsifying their incomes to qualify.

Christie said his proposed fiscal year 2013 budget carries “the largest appropriation of state education dollars in New Jersey’s history,’’ but said those dollars must be stretched.

“We have to go farther to make sure that the resources are being used in a way to close the achievement gap and serve those children who need it most,’’ Christie said.

A June 2011 report from the Office of the State Auditor and August 2010 from the Office of the State Comptroller both uncovered abuses or unfairness, Christie said.

A recent Department of Education report called for the formation of the task force.


Associated Press - Christie: Change the way at-risk students are counted

3:55 PM, Mar. 5, 2012 | Written by Angela Delli Santi

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie announced Monday that he’s looking for another way to count impoverished students whose districts qualify for additional school aid because the existing measure — participation in a subsidized school lunch program — is rife with fraud and may be to blame for the misdirection of tens of millions of dollars.

Christie signed an executive order convening a task force and giving it four months to come up with a new way to count economically disadvantaged students. The Republican governor also took aim at tax abatement programs, which he said might artificially deflate a community’s tax ratable base, another factor in determining aid to public school districts under the state school funding formula.

“The task force will help root out and eliminate well-documented fraud and abuse in the free and reduced price school lunch program, which has led to the possible misdirection of tens of millions of dollars of education funding,” Christie said.

Christie has said many times that he disagrees with the school funding formula put in place by his predecessor and upheld by the state Supreme Court.

Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine’s formula allocates aid based on the children and their economic circumstances, not where they attend school. But Christie has said the formula requires the state to send thousands of additional dollars per pupil to the poorest districts without regard for results. He said the achievement gap between students living in poor and wealthy areas has not lessened significantly despite hundreds of millions in additional spending.

Christie has promised to remake the Supreme Court with less activist justices because of decisions like upholding the school funding formula. He said his latest proposal stresses accountability in allocating taxpayer money.

The governor was ordered by the court last year to restore $500 million in aid to the poorest districts, which he had cut from the budget. In the coming fiscal year, he proposes increasing aid to K-12 schools by $213 million over the current allocation.

“How we spend education dollars in our schools is just as important as how we provide them,” Christie said. “Funding must follow the child more closely and get to the students who need it most.”

Monday’s announcement is the second in which Christie has proposed plans to tinker with the school funding formula. His education chief said last month that the way students are counted would be changed from a single day’s attendance to a calculation based on the entire year. That change is more likely to affect poor districts, where attendance can be more sporadic and tends to decrease later in the school year as students change residences.

The subsidized school lunch program came under scrutiny last summer when the president of the Elizabeth school board was arrested for having children enrolled in the program even though they didn’t meet income eligibility requirements.

A 2011 report by the state auditor estimated that 37 percent of the applications received for the program were fraudulent.

Sen. Michael Doherty, a conservative Republican representing Hunterdon and Warren counties, said the current calculation of at-risk students has resulted in an inequitable distribution of state school aid. He has long pushed for an alternate school funding formula.


Bloomberg News - Christie May Replace Free-Lunch Count as Measure of Poverty

Elise Young, ©2012 Bloomberg News BloombergMarch 5, 2012 04:00 ACopyright Bloomberg. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.Monday, March 5, 2012

March 5 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is looking for a new way to measure student poverty as part of his plan to overhaul how school aid is distributed.

The state currently measures "at-risk students" by determining the number of children receiving free or reduced- price school lunches, and districts with students in that program get more aid. Those lunch counts are inaccurate and subject to fraud, Christie, 49, a first-term Republican, said today at a press conference in Trenton.

"We've all heard the stories of abuse and misuse of this program," Christie said. "A report by the state auditor has revealed high levels of fraudulent enrollment in the program, resulting in possibly tens of millions of dollars being misdirected or misspent."

Christie has said that the state's school-funding formula sends too much money to low-income districts that continue to underperform, while suburban systems are shortchanged. He proposed raising school aid by $213 million in his budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and seeks changes that would give more money to districts according to their enrollment of poor children.

Task Force

The governor said he signed an executive order today creating a panel that will find and eliminate fraud and abuse in the school-lunch program, and determine the best method of measuring student poverty.

New Jersey's $198 million lunch program, which is mostly funded by the federal government, provided free or reduced-price meals to 428,000 students as of May 2010, according to a June 27, 2011, report by the state auditor's office. As many as 37 percent of the program's recipients may have been ineligible, the report found.

Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf, in a Feb. 23 report, cited possible fraud or error in the program and recommended that participation no longer count as part of the funding formula. He also questioned whether low income was an accurate gauge of students' potential.

In September, the president of the Elizabeth school board and two others were charged with falsifying income information so their children would receive the subsidies, at a cost to taxpayers of $7,000 over five years, according to the state Attorney General's Office.

More Money

The Elizabeth incident is proof that the school-funding formula needs an overhaul, Republican state Senator Michael Doherty, from Washington Township in Warren County, told reporters at Christie's press conference. Districts draw $5,000 to $6,000 in aid for each student in the lunch program, he said.

New Jersey spent an average $17,076 per public-school student in 2008, the third-highest amount among the states and 60 percent above the U.S. average, according to Cerf's report. Spending more money hasn't resulted in all of New Jersey's students receiving proper educations, Christie has said.

In 2011, the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that New Jersey had the nation's second-widest "achievement gap," or the test-results differences between rich and poor students in eighth-grade reading.


Press of Atlantic City - Lack of funding leaves New Jersey’s gifted and talented students at mercy of their schools

March 6, 2012  by Diane D’Amico

Newton’s Laws of Motion was the lesson, and the promise of rides down the hallway on a hoverboard had Kelly Hunt’s gifted and talented fifth-grade class at the Joyanne Miller School in Egg Harbor Township bouncing in anticipation.

First came the lesson: Students were asked to give an example of a law in action. Satisfied with their answers, Hunt led them into the hallway, where they took turns sitting cross-legged on the circular hoverboard as forced air from a leafblower lifted them a few inches off the ground, and a nudge from math teacher Colin McClain gently propelled them down the hallway.

“How do the laws apply here?” she asked the students.

“Law one,” said Isabella Bejaran, 10. “It doesn’t move until it’s acted on.”

New Jersey’s Department of Education requires school districts to identify and offer programs to children considered “gifted and talented.” But while millions of dollars are allocated by the federal and state government to assist students who struggle, there is no funding that targets gifted students; each district is left to decide how to meet the rule.

Results are impossible to measure, but advocates say programs have suffered in the recession.

“We’ve surveyed schools and the person who (coordinated) the gifted program now likely has multiple jobs, so they are no longer just focused on that,” said Elaine Mendelow, president of the New Jersey Association for Gifted Children.

“I’m not even sure all districts realize there is a mandate,” said Jane Clarenbach, director of public information for the National Association for Gifted Children, which does an annual survey of programs and called New Jersey “average, but not near the top.”

“Nationwide, the focus is not on advanced students,” she said. “And it’s a myth that they will just do OK on their own.”

Advocates said identifying G&T students can be a sensitive issue. Some districts provide “enrichment” activities for all students, at least in the early grades. By middle school, demonstrated talents, grades, test scores and teacher recommendations can place students in special “pullout” programs.

Clarenbach said that with no clear standards, a student may be in a G&T program in one school, then move and not qualify in another. Limited access has sent parents to private fee-based programs, such as the Academically Gifted and Talented Program at Montclair University and the Southern New Jersey Consortium of the Gifted and Talented, which holds classes on Saturdays at the Galloway Township Middle School.

“It was a way to offer more than the schools alone could provide,” Galloway Curriculum Supervisor Michael Hinman said of the consortium. The next session begins March 10 and is fully enrolled.

The Montclair program has operated for more than 30 years, offering programs for every grade from kindergarten through high school. Associate Director Nicole DeCapua said they are now developing online courses to reach more students.

The Galloway Township School District offers a “pullout” program in grades kindergarten through five and accelerated-level classes for middle school students who qualify based on test scores and grades.

Hinman said the state definition of G&T is a student whose academic learning is beyond their years. The district uses a variety of academic measures to identify students and about 15 percent of students quality. Parents, he said, will put pressure on educators to place their children in the programs.

“They worry their children will miss out on opportunities,” he said. “The selection can be uncomfortable, but where do you draw the line? There is a lot of gray area.”

Linwood offers a schoolwide enrichment program in the Seaview Elementary School, enrichment and accelerated programs in the Belhaven Middle School, plus specialized after-school clubs in science, drama and language arts. Director of Curriculum Jill Yochim said programs such as mock trials allow students to participate in activities matched to their talents and interests.

“We try to reach everyone,” she said.

Hamilton Township also offers in-class enrichment for all children in grades K-4, but budget cuts did eliminate the specialized teacher for that program, Director of Curriculum Lisa Dagit said. She said with increased state aid they now are looking at how to reorganize the program. In grades five through eight, they offer accelerated classes in specific subjects, and about a third of all students participate in some type of enrichment program.

“Many children are talented,” Dagit said. “We try to include as many as we can. But only a small percentage is truly gifted and they will stand out.”

Educators said some students may be talented in specialized areas such as music and art, so trimming those programs also reduces options for gifted students.

“Those children need a chance to express themselves and they don’t always get that opportunity in the classroom,” Mendelow said. “With differentiated instruction, most of the effort goes to students who are struggling. People have frowned on pullout programs, but they are an opportunity to focus on gifted students.”

She said a gifted program allows students to be creative and solve problems, not just learn more. Hinman cited a saying that “bright students know the answers, gifted students ask the questions.”

Hunt said she also works with classroom teachers at the Miller School to make her lessons available to all students, including those in special education. The G&T students publish a school newspaper that has included submissions from other students.

“The G&T students really are working at a more advanced level,” Hunt said. “I push the envelope with them.”

Clarenbach said minority and low-income students are often the most neglected because urban districts are under so much pressure to improve test scores of underachieving students. She said the so-called achievement gap between white and minority students also exists among the top performers, creating an “excellence gap.”

Contact Diane D'Amico: 609-272-7241 DDamico@pressofac.com