|6-21-12 State Budget winding up...or down...tenure in the mix|
Star Ledger - Busy sessions on tap at Statehouse in Trenton today
The Wall Street Journal - NY POLITICS - Christie Tries for Tenure Compromise
NJ Spotlight Q&A: Gov. Jim Florio…The former governor talks about school vouchers, his own educational history, and the difference between spending and investing when it comes to public education
Star Ledger - Busy sessions on tap at Statehouse in Trenton today
Published: Updated: Thursday, June 21, 2012, 7:35 AM
TRENTON — Like college kids in finals week, New Jersey lawmakers are cramming lots into today's sessions and committee meetings as many of the year's biggest bills get negotiated along with the state budget, which must be passed by month's end.
Here's a look at what they'll be up to in Trenton today, where temperatures are expected to top 95 degrees, and tempers may be heated inside the Golden Dome:
The Senate and Assembly budget committees will consider millionaires tax today, but Christie has vowed to veto the measure — for the third time. Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) said the proceeds would go toward the Homestead Rebate program, which has seen cuts in funding under this administration. The program provides tax relief to the elderly and working-class families. Senate Democratic leaders, who initially resisted the tax, have agreed to consider it, but tie the revenue to the existing rebate program.
The Senate will take up a bill today that requires teachers to score well on annual evaluations — taking student test scores into account — to keep their jobs while retaining seniority rules. The bill, sponsored by State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) has received bipartisan support in the Senate budget committee and is expected to gain similar support on the Senate floor. An Assembly version sponsored by Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) and approved by the Assembly Education Committee, provides greater teacher protections. Diegnan and Ruiz must reach a compromise that can pass both houses . It is unclear whether Christie will sign the bill.
HIGHER EDUCATION BOND ISSUE
The Senate will consider a bill today asking voters to approve a $750 million bond referendum in November — the largest in state history but far less than the $6 billion initially sought — to expand and upgrade the state’s private and public colleges. The bill breezed through the Senate budget committee although two Democrats said it wasn’t enough. "If we are serious about improving higher education, this is not enough," the committee chairman, Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), said Monday. Lawmakers would also rely on $500 million remaining from a previous bond, bringing the financing to about $1.3 billion. An identical bill has yet to be taken up by an Assembly committee.
In a rare reversal, Christie the budget hawk plans to take $260 million set aside for transportation projects to offset a revenue shortfall that grows larger every month. He will still provide full financing for roads and bridges, but he now wants to rely more on borrowing than he planned. The plan has drawn criticism because it would increase the debt load on the cash-strapped Transportation Trust Fund instead of reducing it as initially promised.
The Senate will take up a bill to make permanent a five-year-old syringe-exchange pilot program intended to decrease the spread of AIDS and hepatitis. Under the bill, which appropriates $95,000, any community could participate. An identical bill was recently introduced in the Assembly.
The Assembly will consider a bill today that will force parents to go back to driving school for a driver orientation course if they want their teenage children to get a learning permit. Also under the terms of the bill, teenagers would be required to have a learner’s permits for at least one year and log 50 hours of practice driving time before getting a license. The Senate has not held a committee hearing on the bill. Christie vetoed a similar measure in the last legislative session.
ENERGY TAX RECEIPTS
The Senate and Assembly Committees will consider a bill to phase in the return of more than $300 million in energy tax receipts to municipalities over the next five years. Mayors have asked lawmakers and Christie to the money, which they say belongs to them. They contend that while towns are imposing taxes on utilities, the state is collecting the money and keeping it. The Christie administration insists it is following the law and the practices of previous governors.
The Wall Street Journal - NY POLITICS - Christie Tries for Tenure Compromise
June 20, 2012, 10:20 p.m. ET By HEATHER HADDON
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has dropped his insistence on ending seniority-based layoffs for public schoolteachers as he negotiates a compromise that would overhaul the state's century-old tenure system, said three people familiar with the talks.
A bill with Mr. Christie's support would include the first major changes to the nation's oldest teacher tenure law and is set to pass the state Senate on Thursday. It would create a system in which teachers could lose tenure based on several performance measures, including student test scores, and speed schools' ability to fire teachers.
The Assembly is expected to continue talks on its own measure on Thursday, setting the stage for a deal that could give Mr. Christie another significant victory over public-employee unions—albeit one without changes to the so-called last-in/first-out rule that requires newer teachers to be laid off before senior ones.
"The governor signaled that he can live with a tenure bill without seniority. That opened the doors to negotiate," said one person with knowledge of the negotiations.
Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Mr. Christie, wouldn't comment on the talks surrounding last-in/first-out. Mr. Drewniak said the administration has been "very supportive" of the efforts of Sen. Teresa Ruiz, the Newark Democrat who is sponsoring the Senate bill.
The Republican governor has campaigned steadily against last-in/first-out and embraced a growing movement to link student performance to teachers' job security. At least nine states in the past three years have scrapped last-in/first-out and adopted changes that require job performance to be considered during layoffs.
Mr. Christie has scored big victories over the state's unions in the past, including bipartisan legislation passed last year that required public workers to pay more for pensions and health benefits. Education became his latest campaign last year.
“The compromise is expected to ease passage of an overhaul to teacher tenure.”
"It is time to end the system of last-in/first-out, which protects some of the worst and penalizes some of the best," said Mr. Christie in his State of the State speech in January. "Let's act on real tenure reform now."
Opponents of last-in/first-out say it often protects more-experienced but sometimes less-talented teachers at the expense of good, young educators. Its proponents say it is a crucial worker protection and contend there isn't a proven method for systematically distinguishing good teachers from bad.
Democrats who control both houses of the Legislature and the state's powerful teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, have long opposed revamping tenure rules.
Ms. Ruiz's bill is the result of years of painstaking negotiations between Democrats and education groups including the union. Last week, over three days of negotiations, high-level members of the Christie administration, some Democrats and education groups agreed on a tenure reform bill after seniority was removed as an issue, according to a person familiar with the talks.
The bill would overhaul the tenure system, which now involves a lengthy, costly process for disciplining teachers. Tenure is generally granted after teachers spend three years on the job.
The Senate bill would directly link tenure to annual evaluations of performance, ranking teachers in four tiers: Highly effective, effective, partially ineffective and ineffective. A teacher could lose tenure after two consecutive years of being ranked in the lowest tiers. To gain tenure, a teacher must be ranked effective or highly effective twice within a three-year period. The tenure provisions would apply only to teachers hired after the legislation takes effect.
A new evaluation system for all teachers is still under development in New Jersey.
Ms. Ruiz's bill passed out of a Senate committee 13-0 Monday, with the Republican support viewed as a good indication of Mr. Christie's approval. The NJEA supports the legislation.
"We wanted to get a good bill that makes sense and will provide the best environment for our schools," said Steve Baker, a union spokesman.
Ms. Ruiz didn't respond to requests for comment.
Even without last-in/first-out changes, Mr. Christie would likely claim an overall victory if he signs a compromise bill similar to Ms. Ruiz's, underscoring his ability to strike bipartisan deals, said Brigid Harrison, a Montclair State University political science professor.
"It's a bit of policy loss, but on the whole, you can put this in the win column for the governor," Ms. Harrison said.
The victory would come during a difficult time for other components of the governor's agenda. A historic 10% income tax cut has met resistance from Democrats, and a merger of Rutgers University and other state schools has faced opposition from the schools.
Mr. Christie isn't the only leading politician to try and fail to end last-in/first-out. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's attempt last year died in Albany.
New Jersey is among 11 states that still require teacher layoffs to be based on seniority.
— Lisa Fleisher and Stephanie Banchero contributed to this article.
Write to Heather Haddon at email@example.com
Former Gov. Jim Florio has long been outspoken about his opposition to school vouchers in New Jersey.
This spring, he is making his opinions known again through columns and commentary, at a time when the ever-evolving Opportunity Scholarship Act continues to gain political momentum.
NJ Spotlight spoke with Florio yesterday, delving into his opposition to OSA but also asking questions about education reform in general and how he would fix today's ailing schools.
Question: Why are you speaking out on vouchers, and why now?
Answer: This isn’t an issue that I have come to lightly or lately: the thought that the whole voucher system is a real threat to public education. It is a legitimate philosophic approach, just not one I agree with. It seems to be gaining in ascendancy, part of a whole move against the public education system, with charter schools, online schools, and for-profit schools.
Q: What about the timing now at the end of the budget session, when OSA by all accounts looks to be on the back burner until at least fall? Do you think it could pass sooner than later?
A: Everyone knows this is a crazy period in the budget deliberations, where a lot of strange things can happen, similar to the lame duck session of the Legislature, where things can come out of nowhere. But also, with the budgetary difficulties we have in New Jersey, this would be the least appropriate time for us to be raiding our treasury.
These proposals that are pending will have the program funded by businesses writing off contributions to these “scholarships,” which are really vouchers. Any economist would tell you that a tax credit is the equivalent to the loss of tax revenues. The estimates have been between $700 million and $1.4 billion, and it is both fiscally imprudent and educationally irresponsible at this time to finance something that, in my mind, is a threat to the whole system of quality public education.
Q: But what about these students in schools that are clearly low performing? You are more than familiar with the Camden school system, probably the lowest performing of all.
A: First of all, when you have a bad situation, you don’t make it worse. We’re taking away the money and then taking away the more motivated students, and it just compounds the problem. We know what has to be done: pre-school programs, smaller class sizes, quality teachers, modern facilities, and the financing necessary to provide a quality education. We need to do these things.
Public education is really an investment. It’s not spending, it’s an investment that pays dividends. What you don’t do is just write off a whole group of students as not qualified for that. It’s a matter of priorities and we know what needs to be done. We just haven’t had the will to go out and do it.
As you know, I was a high school drop out, went on to get my GED and then my degree from Trenton State Teachers College. I know from my own knowledge that education is opportunity. And one of the things that is under assault in this country right now is the opportunity for upward mobility. We are turning into a bifurcated society. The voucher program is one more step in writing off a whole cluster of people from receiving the opportunity of a quality public education. What this program would do is take out the most motivated students and do nothing to fix these failing schools. The 80 percent or 90 percent left behind are being written off -- collateral damage.
Q: What else needs to be done for these schools? What do you think of the current education reforms being debated, led by the push to overhaul teacher tenure rules?
A: I agree with reforms. Clearly the whole system as it now exists is inefficient. It’s something I’ve said in the past. I agree with merit pay -- but if it is done on a school-wide basis. I don’t want teachers competing against each other but collaborating with each other.
Education is a collaborative effort where everyone works together. The principal is especially important, the most important person in the school. But nobody is willing to do all that hard work and pull it all together. Instead, we go along with the short, easy answer, the one-shot ideas of charter schools, vouchers, online schools, privatization. I am troubled about the prospect of the for-profit sector coming in and taking over. A few years back, we had the Edison Schools coming into Philadelphia and it turned out to be a disaster.
Q: Your administration was behind the takeover of Paterson district schools in 1991, one of three districts where the state has taken control. Would you do that again?
A: In so many of these cases in those years, there were not a whole lot of alternatives. At that point in the Abbott v. Burke litigation, we didn’t have the knowledge we have now. The Supreme Court said very candidly that we don’t know what constitutes thorough and efficient education, but we do know that the amount of money makes a difference. And we saw that the affluent schools were doing well, therefore, Abbott schools should have the same amount.
Things have changed. We now have the documented evidence of what preschool can provide toward a quality education, we know that having adequate buildings is required. Would we/I do the same again now? Maybe not, but the State can still play a vital role in providing the resources and the support needed to provide for a quality education.
Garden State Coalition of Schools