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6-7-12 Education Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight - New Player At Table as Lawmakers Fine Tune Teacher Tenure Reform…Chair of Assembly’s education committee offers a competing proposal

Philadelphia Inquirer - Groups protest Christie's education funding

NJ Spotlight - New Player At Table as Lawmakers Fine Tune Teacher Tenure Reform…Chair of Assembly’s education committee offers a competing proposal



With a new twist coming out of the state Assembly, Democratic legislators continued this week to fine tune language and negotiate compromises in an effort to come up with a teacher tenure reform bill by the end of June.

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The most prominent bill has been sponsored by state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) on the Senate side, and Ruiz and the Assembly sponsor, Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Essex), both said yesterday they were pressing ahead to have a bill ready for vote this month.

Coutinho said key amendments would be filed on Monday, including possibly those dealing with seniority rights and with the dismissal process of ineffective teachers.

“There has been a lot of activity and meetings, and I believe some progress,” said Coutinho, describing meetings with the main teachers unions, school associations and the Christie administration.

“We will have significant amendments of a bill that we believe works and can be signed into law,” he said.

But the twist came out of Coutinho’s own chamber, as state Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) was finalizing his own bill yesterday that wouldn’t go as far as his colleagues.

One legislator’s bill wouldn’t always mean much, but Diegnan is chairman of the Assembly’s education committee where any final proposal will have to be posted and voted upon on.

The bill itself was not available yesterday, with staff saying it was in final review by the Office of Legislative Services, but a draft provided by Diegnan’s office and his own comments showed some key differences to resolve with Ruiz’s and Coutinho’s version.

For instance, where Ruiz’s bill would remove a teacher’s tenure after two years of poor evaluations, Diegnan’s bill would only trigger possible tenure charges after two years and compels them after three years. That would launch a process before a state arbitrator, with a ruling within six months.

There were also some key similarities, such as both bills requiring a fourth year of teaching before a teacher was to gain tenure. But even some of the language changes show distinct approaches. Where Ruiz’s bill would include a teacher evaluation category for “partially effective,” just above “ineffective,” Diegnan’s called that same category “approaching effective.”Diegnan spoke about the measure earlier in the day in a forum before leaders of the New Jersey School Board Association.

“It has always been my position that tenure is important, and the cure would be much worse than the disease if we did away with tenure,” he said. “We never want a situation where the change in the political leadership in a town would put everyone’s job at risk.”

“However, I believe that we need to put in place a cost effective expeditious way to remove a teacher who is ineffective, and that will be the focus of my bill,” he said.

His proposal would also step lightly around the place of student achievement and test scores in the teacher’s evaluation, one of the more controversial issues in the whole debate. “It will be referred to, but it will not be a determining factor,” Diegnan said.

Ruiz, who chairs the Senate education committee, yesterday said she would not comment on any competing proposals, maintaining only that she continues to meet with various stakeholders to come up with a consensus bill.

“I’m committed to finishing my bill,” she said during a break from a meeting of the Senate budget committee, of which she is also a member. “I am committed to a final version of my bill that puts teachers and children first.”

How this political chess game plays out is hard to predict, with Gov. Chris Christie obviously a central player as well.

He has pressed a reform bill that significantly ties tenure to student achievement as one of his priorities for the coming weeks, up there with a budget deal and his proposed 10 percent income tax cut. (However, he hedged on the income tax yesterday, saying in a morning speech that he now could support the Senate Democrats’ plan for property tax credits instead.)

Coutinho said Christie’s senior staff has been involved in the talks over tenure reform as well, as has acting education commissioner Chris Cerf.

“Is it a clear path, obviously not,” he said. “But hopefully next week, there will be significant activity. Are we close? We’ll know more in a week.”



Philadelphia Inquirer - Groups protest Christie's education funding

June 07, 2012|By Rita Giordano and INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

A coalition of nearly 60 organizations including education advocates and groups that represent teachers and people of color sent a letter Thursday to the Legislature's Democratic majority calling for rejection of the Christie administration's fiscal 2013 education budget.

The groups contend that the proposed budget continues to underfund the public schools funding formula. In addition, they say the budget includes changes in the weight given to certain students, including the poor and English language learners, and the way student enrollment is calculated — both of which stand to hurt needy districts. While some districts will get more aid than they did this year, the letter states, almost all will get less funding than they are entitled to under that state formula.

"Statewide, school districts would lose $750.4 million, bringing the total level of underfunding since 2010 to $3.6 billion," the groups contend.

"Gov. Christie is trying to use budget language to effectively dismantle the framework for school aid established by the Legislature in 2008 and approved by the New Jersey Supreme Court," said Sharon Krengel, policy and outreach coordinator for the Education Law Center, one of the groups that sent the letter to the legislators.

While the state's poorest districts would see the biggest aid cuts, more than 200 urban and suburban districts would not get the minimum amount of aid they are entitled to under the funding formula, she said.

The groups' letter also urges the legislators to increase funding for the state's schools and raise revenues through means such as increasing taxes on high earners.

Barbara Morgan, a state Education Department spokeswoman, defended the state education aid allocation as generous and said the alterations to the funding formula are "commonsense changes" that will "make aid fairer, less susceptible to fraud and abuse, and help to ensure that funding more closely follows each student."

Contact staff writer Rita Giordano at 856-779-3841, rgiordano@phillynews.com or on Twitter @ritagiordano.


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