|1-5-10 GSCS: Update on January 4 Lame Duck Session|
Of Note: Certain bills that have been targeted by GSCS since June and on the GSCS 'Radar Screen' did not come up for a vote (our thanks to members who helped in our outreach out to Trenton). These bills included S2850- Prevailing Wage for Food Service Workers; A4140-Subcontracting revisions; A4142-'Instant Tenure' bill; A1489 Extracurricular Fee bill. GSCS continues to watch...School-related bills that are moving through are A3671-Accredited Institution/studies & compensation; A194-S1036 Allows undocumented residents to pay in-state tuition for higher education studies; A3472- Interdistrict Public School Choice bill, among others...The Pension Deferral bills (S3136-A4362) were held (not enough votes). For related news articles from today, click on More here...ALSO OF NOTE: Governor Corzine's introduced plan to cut state aid to schools via additional surplus on hand,requires legislation...to date, no legislation has been introduced to support this proposal. GSCS is hearing it is 'up in the air' and will not be addressed, at least not in this lame duck session. There are clear problems with the proposal's approach: one, by our measures, is that approximately 40% of school districts will not be impacted; the 60% that could be affected will not be able to apply those moneys to property tax relief (as currently required by law). Since this legislated process has been in place for awhile, removing those funds from property tax relief would create a structural hole in building the revenue side of the school budget at the get-go. At this point it appears that the retiring 213th Legislature is letting go of Corzine's recommendation, leaving the issue to the new 214th Legislature and the new Governor, Chris Christie. Yet GSCS has also been aware that state aid is a likely target and may be cut to schools in this year. GSCS submits that school communities require flexibility in how to apply any potential aid cuts.
In-state tuition for illegal immigrants advances in state Legislature
Committees in both houses of the Legislature voted Monday for a proposal that would give immigrant children not in the country legally the ability to pay in-state tuition rates at New Jersey public colleges.
Students who are undocumented aliens would be eligible to pay in-state tuition if they attended a New Jersey high school for at least three years, graduated or got the equivalent of a diploma and file an affidavit with their college promising to apply to legalize their immigration status as soon as they're eligible.
New Jersey would be the 12th state to exempt undocumented immigrants from paying out-of-state tuition rates which can be twice or more the rates charged to in-state residents if the Senate and Assembly pass the bill Thursday or next Monday and Gov. Jon S. Corzine signs it before leaving office Jan. 19.
Democrats on the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and Assembly Budget Committee voted for the bill, and Republicans opposed it.
"We're not talking about free tuition. We're talking about in-state tuition. It almost makes it sound like we're giving something away," Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, said of critics. "This is equal, fair opportunity."
"It's not about in-state, out-of-state. It's about people at the end of the day. Documented, undocumented, it really doesn't matter. They're in this country. We should be helping them. We should be working together as one large family and doing what's right by people," said Sen. Brian Stack, D-Hudson.
Most of the public testimony was in support the bill, though not all ot it. Jeffrey Hastings of Rockaway said the proposal violates federal law because it affords illegal immigrants a benefit not offered to U.S. citizens who live in other states.
"It is an unnecessary added burden on New Jersey taxpayers to expect them to subsidize this, however small the cost may be, on top of all the other initiatives that are approved for undocumented residents such as emergency health care and the cost of certain incarcerations," Hastings said. "New Jersey taxpayers have just had it with these extra social initiatives."
Both committee hearings were packed, primarily by advocates for the bill, including students most of them declining to provide their full names, in fear of creating legal jeopardy for themselves who offered testimony about their struggles to afford college and land quality jobs due to their immigration status.
The bill doesn't directly affect state revenues, though it would reduce tuition payments to public colleges now charged at out-of-state rates.
It's unclear if the bill would alter college admissions patterns. If more undocumented immigrants apply to colleges, many of which are at capacity, it could restrict opportunities for legal residents, critics of the bill said. Colleges may also admit a greater number of out-of-state students to make up for any lost revenue.
"For the economics to work here, with all due respect, I think you're going to end up with current students ... being disadvantaged because there's going to be a larger pool and more competition," said Assemblyman Richard Merkt, R-Morris. "And I do not approve of that when it hurts U.S. citizens. That's a problem."
Anastasia Mann, a policy analyst for New Jersey Policy Perspective who also works at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, said most students who would benefit from the bill would enroll in community colleges. She said the proposal makes economic sense for the state because it raises tax receipts, improves the work force and allows low-income families to spend their limited funds on other things.
The wild card in the equation is whether Congress will enact sweeping immigration reforms in the near future. Ryan Lilienthal, an immigration attorney from Princeton, said some students can achieve citizenship status under current immigration laws but acknowledged that the situation could be altered if Washington acts.
N.J. Assembly committee approves bill allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition
January 04, 2010, 4:34PM
TRENTON -- A bill that would allow illegal immigrants who are New Jersey residents to pay in-state tuition was today moved out of an Assembly committee after hours of emotional testimony.
Opponents of the bill say it goes against federal law and would deprive state colleges of the money that out-of-state tuition would bring in, but supporters counter that it would bring paying students to the school who otherwise would not have attended at all.
The Assembly Appropriations Committee voted 7-4 to move the bill to the full Assembly. It was scheduled for debate in a Senate committee today.
If the bill is passed by the full Legislature and signed by the governor, immigrants in the country illegally would be eligible for in-state tuition if they have attended a New Jersey high school for at least three years and received a diploma or equivalency.
The Office of Legislative Services, a nonpartisan body that works for the legislature, said the bill would not cost the state money, but some legislators say they cannot see how that is possible. Assemblyman Richard Merkt (R-Morris) said it was "naive" to think so, and Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington) said he had spoken to university presidents who said it would have a fiscal impact.
Dozens of students stood in front of the Assembly Committee today to show their support and testify. A few would not give their full names, and the press were asked not to photograph their faces.
Cid Wilson, the vice chairman at the board of trustees at Bergen Community College, said the bill would not cost colleges like his more money.
"If anything, there will be a benefit to the colleges," he said, because many of the costs are larger, fixed costs that do not increase with each additional student. He said the "large amount" of undocumented students at the college have shined and excelled, and pay taxes through rent, sales and income tax.
Supporters said the students should not be punished for their parents' decisions.
One of the bill's sponsors, Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), argued that this was simply making the tuition rates equal for students who had lived here as long - or longer - than other students who receive in-state rates.
"I think this bill is about fairness and opportunity," she said. "We are not giving anything away. We are just making it equal."
Opponents also said it was about fairness - to the people in the country legally.
"A kid from South Philly or a kid from the South Bronx, who happens to be a citizen, is going to pay higher tuition than someone who is here from, say, Saudi Arabia, and not here legally," Merkt said. "I don't know how a legislator, who has taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United States, can say we're going to ignore federal law and provide a subsidy to youngsters who are here in violation of the law."
Ten states -- including New York, Texas, California and New Mexico -- allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition.
N.J. lawmakers hear bills aimed at improving urban education
January 04, 2010, 5:13PM
TRENTON -- Education experts say New Jersey's failing urban public schools can be improved by pairing more experienced teachers with disadvantaged students, downsizing schools and insisting that high academic standards be met.
The experts were invited to the Assembly Education Committee today to share their ideas on improving urban education.
Incoming Gov. Chris Christie, who visited a Newark charter school the day after winning the Nov. 3 election, has vowed to make public education a priority in his new administration. His term begins Jan. 19.
During the gubernatorial campaign, Christie accused his opponent, Gov. Jon Corzine, of not moving fast enough to approve charter school applications.
Christie has said he wants to give parents of students in underperforming schools the option of transferring to other public schools, charter schools or possibly even private schools.
Committee Chairman Joe Cryan said the goal of the hearing was to find more opportunities for city students. While charter schools often are successful, about a quarter fail, he said.
School performance in New Jersey's urban areas is similar that of other states, said Michele Cahill, vice president for national programs and director of urban education at the Carnegie Corp. in New York. Nationally, 4 of 10 high school graduates need remedial help in college, Cahill said.
"As a country, we're no longer first in the world," she said. "Others have caught up and surpassed us."
C. Kent McGuire, dean of the College of Education at Temple University in Philadelphia and a school board member in Moorestown, said too many teachers in urban districts are teaching subjects they are not certified to teach.
"All too often we have the least experienced teachers deployed in classrooms with the least advantaged," McGuire said.
Cahill agreed, saying that up to 70 percent of urban middle schoolers are being taught math by teachers who are not certified in that subject.
The experts pointed to research showing that small community-based schools "where adults and kids know each other," according to Cahill help students thrive, while big, impersonal schools do not.
"Relationships between the adults and the kids play a major role in success," she said.
Cahill said urban education reforms should include "fewer, clearer, higher" standards and assessments for students and teachers.
Meanwhile, the Assembly Appropriations Committee approved a bill to expand a pilot school choice program.
The legislation, sponsored by Assemblywomen Mila Jasey and Joan Voss, creates a permanent public school choice program allowing parents to move their kids to schools located across district lines.
"Public school choice is an important step to ensuring each child has the ability to attend a school that is best-suited to their individual needs and talents," said Jasey, a former member of the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education. "More importantly, public school choice programs can improve educational outcomes for students without seeing taxpayer money funneled out of New Jersey's strong public school system."
The program would replace a pilot program that expired in 2005, though many participating districts continued to informally honor previously agreed-to student arrangements.
The committee released the bill 12-0. It now heads to the Assembly speaker, who decides whether to post it for a floor vote.
Bill allowing N.J. municipalities to defer pension payments stalls
January 04, 2010, 7:05PM
TRENTON -- Legislation that would allow local governments to delay paying their full pension obligations stalled in the state Legislature today, despite lobbying from urban mayors who said it was necessary to stave off property tax hikes and prevent layoffs in tough economic times.
Appropriations committees in the Senate and Assembly pulled the bill from their agendas. Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney, who opposes the bill, said the bill did not have enough votes to pass.
Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy said the municipality would have to raise $15 million potentially through a combination of higher taxes and layoffs without the cost-cutting tool. He said it would simply punt the problem into the future, adding the state should give local officials the power to make those financial decisions.
"Let them make the call, and if it turns out wrong, theyll take the blame for that," Healy said.
Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson) introduced the legislation last month, saying cities needed the break during the economic downturn to prevent property tax increases.
Sweeney and others have cited concern for the health of the severely underfunded pension system in their opposition.
Garden State Coalition of Schools