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5-7-12 Education Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight - With or Without Legislature, Christie Has Options for Pressing School Reforms…State law presents obstacles on some changes, but Christie also going regulatory route

Ocean City Gazette - If approved by state, all Sea Isle students will go to OC schools

Courier Post - New Jersey's grading of charter schools under scrutiny

Politico - Rising GOP stars eye education

The Record-Associated Press - U.S. Senate turns to partisan fight over student loans

NJ Spotlight - With or Without Legislature, Christie Has Options for Pressing School Reforms…State law presents obstacles on some changes, but Christie also going regulatory route

By John Mooney, May 7, 2012 in Education|Post a Comment

Gov. Chris Chris Christie is back to calling out the state legislature for not moving on his agenda, from income tax cuts to changes in teacher tenure rights. Last week, he started his now familiar deadline by countdown, now at 55 days until the summer break.

But on his education agenda at least, the governor is also finding he can move on some key issues without the legislature’s full consent, creating tensions along the way but with, so far, no one stopping him.

An example came last week when Christie announced a new plan for high school testing that would effectively do away with the current High School Proficient Assessment and replace it with yearly exams in language arts and math, as well as possibly other subjects.

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When asked whether it would need approval of the legislature, Christie said Monday that most could be done through state code and the State Board of Education, of which he will have appointed its majority by the end of his term.

“I think most of it we can do regulatory,” Christie said on Monday. “If it needs some clean up, we can talk to [the legislature] about it, but nothing that will be a foundation of the policy.”

However, overlooked was the fact that the state’s current high school testing is indeed written into state law, providing some wiggle room for the administration but still a benchmark that will need to be addressed.

The law requires a high school test in 11th grade, as is now administered in the HSPA. Another provision also requires a similar test in 8th grade.

The high school law reads:

“In the school year which begins in September 1993, and annually thereafter, the State graduation proficiency test shall be administered to all 11th grade pupils and to any 11th or 12th grade pupil who has previously failed to demonstrate mastery of State graduation proficiency standards on said test. The mastery of proficiencies required to fulfill local graduation standards shall be determined as appropriate under local board of education assessment plans.”

It does not preclude other testing -– and the state now tests from 3rd to 7th grades as well –- but abolishing the HSPA outright would surely need the state legislature’s agreement.

The administration has some time to gain that support, with new testing not expected to come into place for another three years and the HSPA to remain in effect for all current high school students.

Legislators have not indicated that they will resist the changes, but some disagreements with the Democratic controlled legislature have surfaced of late as the administration moves on other education policies perceived as inconsistent with the lawmakers’ intent.

The tensions were on display when Christie’s acting education commissioner, Chris Cerf, went before the Assembly’s budget committee to defend the governor’s education budget for next year.

Much of the discussion centered on state aid to districts, always a contentious topic, but some of the most pointed questions came around Cerf’s reorganization of his department that includes the creation of seven regional achievement centers, taking some of the functions of the department’s existing county offices.

The reorganization was approved by the state Board of Education last year, as is its responsibility over department operations. But in the Statehouse, the point of contention is those county offices and the executive county superintendents who head them are a creation of legislation in 2007 that sought to bring more efficiency to school districts, including a push for consolidation. The county offices were to lead those consolidation efforts.

But after some initial study, those efforts have all but stalled, Cerf conceded. Now just 10 of the 21 county superintendent positions are filled, with no nominations on the table to address the vacancies.

State Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester) pointed out that the legislature held a special session to address school funding, including the new organizational structure.

“The work of the legislature means something, a deliberative body of 120 individuals who are trying to reach conclusions, education being an issue that is very important,” Burzichelli said.

“There was a legislative process that concluded we should have these executive county superintendents in place for a reason,” he said. “We think we have set a course, and find the course has been abandoned.”

Cerf said it was not abandoned entirely, and that a more efficient system of public education remained a goal.

“You offer a very powerful reminder that we need to reengage on that,” Cerf responded to Burzichelli.

The state Board of Education is becoming a more prominent platform for other policy changes.

Christie has sought to rewrite the state’s charter school law to provide even more flexibility to the alternative schools, as well as new procedures for the state to oversee them. But as that legislation has barely moved, the administration has found some opportunity in administrative code to carry forward at least some of its goals.

Last week, it proposed a sweeping change to the state’s procedures for approving and reviewing charter schools, including some options for the state to stop short of closing them outright if they are not performing.

In addition, the new proposed code would lower a chief barrier for online charter schools, a concept that was not envisioned when the state’s existing charter law was enacted.

The changes would allow for charter schools to serve communities that are necessarily contiguous, a nod to online schools that could enroll students virtually anywhere.

Whether or not the changes go through, the Christie administration has nonetheless approved four new online charter schools, at least two planning to open this fall.


Ocean City Gazette - If approved by state, all Sea Isle students will go to OC schools

OCEAN CITY — At a special May 1 meeting of the Ocean City Board of Education unanimously voted not to oppose a potential plan by the New Jersey State Board of Education to close Sea Isle City’s dwindling school district.

The move clears the way for Ocean City to accept an additional 23 kindergarten through third grade students at the district’s primary school. Ocean City already educates fourth through 12th graders in a send-receive relationship.

At a meeting earlier on Tuesday, Sea Isle opted not to object to the plan, which began on Monday, April 30 with an Order to Show Cause from New Jersey’s Acting Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf.

Ocean City Superintendent Kathleen Taylor, who serves in a dual role for Sea Isle, said it is all but “inevitable” that Sea Isle students will be coming to Ocean City, but the move must be formally approved by the State Board of Education at a scheduled June 6 meeting.

“We are preparing a transition plan,” she said. “The State Board, not the Acting Commissioner, must decide where the students will go once the Sea Isle district is ordered to close.”

Taylor said she and business administrator Tom Grossi researched the send-receive relationship between the two districts and it dates back “at least 100 years.”

“So given that we already educate the fourth through 12th grade, and the relationship is so long established, we are assuming that we will be asked to educate the kindergarten through third graders, as well,” she said. “It would seem inevitable. No one can remember a time when Sea Isle students were not coming to Ocean City.”

Taylor said the Ocean City district already planned to add a first grade teacher next year due to a large kindergarten class. That plan was still moving forward. Educating the rest of Sea Isle’s students would most likely not require any additional teachers.

“Everyone is working together,” she said.

Sea Isle City district’s principal, Nick Salvia, who served as an assistant principal at Ocean City High School, would be coming back to the district.

Meanwhile, Taylor said Salvia was working with Sea Isle, communicating with parents and assisting in making the transition “seamless.”

Tuesday’s meeting, Taylor noted, was hastily called because the notice from the state arrived late on Monday, requiring an immediate response. She said the issue has been brewing for a long time.

The Sea Isle City Board of Education, she said, sent several requests over the last 14 months to Gov. Chris Christie, Cerf, the executive county superintendent and the New Jersey State Board of Education requesting that the existing send-receive relationship between Sea Isle and the Ocean City Board of Education be expanded to include grades kindergarten through 12th. Those requests have been consistently joined and supported by Ocean City, she noted.

The board has previously prepared and distributed a Frequently Asked Questions document that sets out and explains the reasoning for Sea Isle’s requests and concerns for the future. Due to continued declining enrollment and certain budgetary deficiencies and issues, Taylor said there were serious concerns that Sea Isle would not be able to provide students with a “safe, comprehensive and thorough and efficient education” at the Sea Isle City Public School next year.

With the arrival of the Order to Show Cause on Monday, April 30, both Sea Isle and Ocean City received a response to their requests. The Order, she said, asked why the Sea Isle School should not be closed and its remaining students sent to Ocean City.

As a further showing of the cooperation and support that has defined the decades long send-receive relationship, both school districts have decided not to oppose or object to the Order to Show Cause, Taylor said.

“Although the continued operation of the Sea Isle School has been the subject of much discussion and debate over the last 10 years, the dedication of our teachers to our students has never wavered or been in question,” said Taylor. “For this, the board and the residents of Sea Isle are eternally grateful and appreciative.”

The table was set, she said, to ease all of Sea Isle’s students into the Ocean City district when Ocean City began accepting not just high school but elementary school students, fifth through eighth graders, as enrollment continued to decline. Fourth graders were then added to the mix and Ocean City began to provide administrative assistance through Taylor, Grossi and Salvia.

In March, however, the Sea Isle City school district was told by the county executive superintendent that it had to cut administrative costs by $41,000. The county superintendent reviews all school budgets in the county.

The cuts meant the shared services deal with Ocean City, originally budgeted at $287,528, had to be shelved. Without that deal, Sea Isle schools had no administration and could not legally operate.

The district still educates students from kindergarten through third grade in Sea Isle City and will continue to do so through the end of the school year when the school building will close for good.

Ocean City has been reticent to take all of Sea Isle City’s students previously because Ocean City would have to take on all of Sea Isle City’s tenured teachers. If the acting commissioner shuts the Sea Isle City school district down, however, Ocean City will not face that requirement.

Taylor said there was no discussion over the resolution at the board table last week, but in the coming months if the relationship is sealed there would be decisions to make. Additional students would bring in additional revenue, but would require the addition of new desks and supplies. She said it was likely the district would acquire some of what is needed from the closing Sea Isle building.

Taylor said it was possible that Ocean City would not see all 23 students come through the doors on the first day of school in September as parents have other choices. She said the Ocean City district will work very hard to make every Sea Isle student feel welcome.



Courier Post - New Jersey's grading of charter schools under scrutiny

6:55 AM, May. 7, 2012 |  Kevin C. Shelly Courier-Post Staff 


CAMDEN — Two city charter schools, targeted for closing by an internal document at the Department of Education last fall, do not appear on a new list recently released by the agency.


LEAP Academy University Charter School’s elementary-to-middle school and D.U.E. Season Charter School initially were on a list, circulated within the DOE in September, that was intended to identify low-performing schools. But neither is on a priority school accountability list issued by the department on April 11 — a list that identifies targets of state intervention and potential closing.

LEAP is the best-known charter in Camden, with a 15-year history and ties to Rutgers-Camden through its founder, Gloria Bonilla-Santiago. The school’s charter had been renewed for another five years shortly before the initial list began circulating.

“I saw it and I could not believe it,” Santiago said of LEAP’s appearance on the first list.

“It was a big mistake and apparently everyone is running around now trying to change it,” she said, noting LEAP has a 100 percent graduation rate.

Santiago said she sought an explanation from acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf; his chief of staff, David Hespe; and the department’s spokesman, Justin Barra.

“They are telling me we should never have been in there. They are not taking responsibility; nobody is talking about how it happened or who did it. It is part of their problem.”

Santiago said several time that a DOE “intern” had placed LEAP on the initial list. Actually, the document’s primary author was Bing Howell, a full-time DOE employee.

Barra said a ranking methodology used by Howell’s “team” did not employ the criteria officially used by the DOE. “It was a ranking plan developed for this document,” the spokesman said.

“It conflicts with the Charter School Office and doesn’t reflect the views of the DOE,” Barra added. “The methodology used was for illustrative purposes, not an actual action plan. It had never been department policy, not in September (when the plan first circulated within the DOE), and not now.”

Barra declined to make Howell available, citing DOE policy. He said he did not know who besides Howell was on the team.

Doris Carpenter, principal and chief education officer for D.U.E., said her school has increased math and language scores.

“Our singular focus … is to close the achievement gap by cultivating the whole child and equipping them with the necessary skills for college, career, lifelong learning and service,” she said. “We remain confident in the fruit of our efforts and the support of the DOE.”

One charter school, Freedom Academy in Fairview, appeared on both lists of low-performers, along with 23 city-run schools.

Freedom Academy’s charter is up for renewal during to the 2012-13 school year. It must show progress in making changes in order to remain open. School leader Tisho Davis could not be reached for comment.

Carlos Perez, chief executive officer of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, said it is appropriate for the state to hold charters accountable. But he also said the state needs to look at measures beyond just test scores, such as social and emotional learning.

His organization, founded in 1999, represents three-quarters of the state’s charter schools, including LEAP and D.U.E. Season. Freedom Academy is not a member of his association.

Reach Kevin C. Shelly at kshelly@gannett.com or (856) 449-8684


Politico -  Rising GOP stars eye education

By GINGER GIBSON | 5/6/12 11:15 AM EDT

A crop of ambitious Republican governors who are possible vice-presidential picks in 2012 are seeking high marks on education reform.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are trash-talking teachers’ unions and pushing for education legislation with a conservative spin in the name of the poorest students. Their efforts could help women warm to Republicans in a year when presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney is lagging by double-digits behind President Barack Obama with the key demographic.

Jindal recently signed a package of education bills that included expanding charter schools. McDonnell is trying to get a voucher plan through his state’s legislature. Chris Christie gained national notoriety for his public battles with politically powerful teachers’ unions.

“Reforming our schools isn’t about the next election, it isn’t about the next poll, it’s about the next generation,” Jindal told POLITICO.

In April, Jindal signed off on a voucher program to allow parents to send their children to private schools with state aid and an overhaul of teacher tenure that makes firing teachers deemed “ineffective” easier.

“It’s a natural fit for Republicans,” Jindal said. “I’ve long thought Republicans need to be much more proactive on education and health-care reform.”

Christie and Jindal both appeared at a school-choice conference in New Jersey this week, where they delivered strong promises to expand charter schools and voucher programs.

Christie, never one to mince his words, described the teachers’ unions as “bullies” and added that he would “punch first” to overcome their opposition to his proposals, according to The Star-Ledger.

While battles with teachers unions and debates over how to improve failing inner-city schools are politically tricky topics on the state level, for the group of Republicans with thinly-veiled national aspirations, the issue is a win-win.

It’s a move that is helping some rising GOP stars make inroads with women, a key constituency that the GOP is finding it difficult to woo this year. Romney is trailing President Barack Obama by double digits in some polls in the with women and the issue could also be key in a slew of competitive down-ballot races this fall.

“Education is a very important issue across-the-board but it’s particularly important among women,” said GOP pollster Whit Ayers. “Since education is widely viewed as primarily a state rather than a federal issue, it becomes a critical way for Republican candidates to close the gender gap.”

Education has virtually been missing in action from the 2012 presidential race, despite the expiration of President George W. Bush’s controversial No Child Left Behind law — which required states to develop standards for their students to receive federal funding — and praise of President Obama’s “Race to the Top” program — which awards federal grants to states innovating in education.

While the political world wonders who Romney will pick as a running mate, shoring up female voters could end up being a key consideration. And the mostly-male group of governors who have invested their political capital in education may get a special look.

Yet, Romney rarely talks about education on the campaign trail, addressing the issue really only when asked by voters about it.

A prominent Romney surrogate who toyed with the idea of running himself in 2012, Christie boasts frequently about his battles with the teachers’ unions and the need to fix New Jersey’s worst schools located in the poorest urban areas, including when he’s working a crowd for Romney.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0512/75953.html#ixzz1uBZEM5KN


The Record-Associated Press  - Senate turns to partisan fight over student loans

Sunday May 6, 2012, 9:49 AM  THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON — The Senate is the newest arena in the election-year face-off over federal student loans, and both sides are starting out by pounding away at each other.

With Congress returning from a weeklong spring recess, the Senate plans to vote Tuesday on whether to start debating a Democratic plan to keep college loan interest rates for 7.4 million students from doubling on July 1. The $6 billion measure would be paid for by collecting more Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes from high-earning owners of some privately held corporations.

Republicans want a vote on their own bill, which like the Democrats' would freeze today's 3.4 percent interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans for one more year. It would be financed by eliminating a preventive health program established by President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

Each side scoffs that the other's proposal is unacceptable, and neither is expected to garner the votes needed to prevail. Even so, everyone expects a bipartisan deal before July 1 because no one wants students' interest rates to balloon before November's presidential and congressional elections.

"We're still pushing on that," said Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, chief sponsor of the Democratic bill. "But I also think I recognize if there is another proposal outside of going after the health care fund, we'll certainly listen."

Stafford loans are made to low- and middle-income students. With student loans of all types a growing household burden that now exceeds the nation's credit-card debt, the fight in Congress has come to symbolize how each party would help families cope with the rugged economy and how to pay for it.

Lawmakers face a pile of other issues this week as well.

On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee plans to vote on GOP-written legislation renewing federal efforts to prevent domestic violence. The Senate voted to renew the Violence Against Women Act two weeks ago and included provisions, such as requiring groups receiving money to show they don't discriminate against gays, that drew opposition from conservatives. The House version is expected to leave out such contentious language.

That same day, House-Senate bargainers plan to start talks on overhauling federal transportation programs. Congress is under pressure to act because the trust fund that pays for highway aid to states is forecast to go broke next year. Transportation programs have limped along under nine short-term extensions since the last long-term transportation bill expired in 2009, and the current one expires June 30.

The House Armed Services Committee plans Wednesday votes on a defense budget that may defy administration preferences to close more military bases and retire some of the Air Force's high-altitude Global Hawk drones.

The House also turns this week to a Republican measure cutting more than $300 billion from the federal budget over the coming decade. The cuts would prevent the Pentagon from getting smacked with a $55 billion cut in its budget next year, due to the failure of last year's deficit "supercommittee" to strike a debt-cutting deal. They would also preserve $24 billion for domestic agency budgets.

The GOP cuts hit programs for the poor such as food stamps and Medicaid, and also strike at Obama's revamping of health care and financial regulations. They'll be dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The House also is set to vote on renewing the charter of the Export-Import Bank, the federal agency founded in 1934 that helps finance American companies' overseas sales. House leaders late Friday broke a political logjam that had been holding up the charter renewal, something usually accomplished with little or no controversy.

As for the student loan fight, it is chiefly an exercise each party is using to vilify the other to voters, as Obama illustrated Friday in remarks to a cheering crowd at a high school in Arlington, Va.

"We shouldn't have to choose between women having preventive health care and young people keeping their student loan rates low," he said, continuing a Democratic theme that the GOP doesn't care about women's issues.

This week's White House schedule underscored the president's willingness to use student loans as a blunt political instrument. He planned a Monday conference call on the subject with local officials and student leaders, Vice President Joe Biden was discussing it Thursday at the White House with students and others, and top administration officials were holding student loan events in at least nine states.

Republicans were giving as well as they got.

In a written statement, Senate Minority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the student loan issue was a phony fight designed by Democrats as a distraction for young people who "can't find good jobs in the Obama economy." Others also called it a charade.

"It seems like once a week, they begin the week by turning the Senate into a political playpen for the presidential race," Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., sponsor of the GOP student loan measure, said in an interview. He added, "I certainly don't support the idea of raising taxes on small business men and women at a time when we're trying to grow jobs."

On April 27, the House approved a student loan measure similar to the one by Senate Republicans. House leaders scheduled that vote soon after Mitt Romney, the likely GOP presidential nominee, built pressure on them by saying he favored extending the current loan interest rates.

If the loan rates rise to 6.8 percent on July 1, it would affect more than 7.4 million students expected to seek subsidized Stafford loans in the year running through June 2013. The Department of Education projects those students will borrow $31.6 billion, averaging $4,226 apiece.


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