2017 Outlook for New Jersey Public Education
New Jersey public education in 2017 will be defined by the influence politicians play on policy during a likely turbulent year ahead.
The election of Donald Trump as president and his selection of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education has created concern among public educators as the Secretary Designee has campaigned personally and contributed money to promote charter schools and vouchers. Once confirmed, Ms. DeVos will be in a position to influence what happens on the state level as regulations implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) are finalized within the federal Department of Education. By nature of her position, she will hold the education “bully pulpit” in the new administration, exerting her influence on state policy. It will be interesting to watch her actions as president-elect Trump was elected in part on cutting back on federal power and regulation.
In the state politics arena early analysis has the year ahead billed as a free-for-all wrestling match featuring Governor Christie, the leadership of the Democratic Party, and the candidates seeking to become the next Governor of the State. Governor Christie is pushing his “Fairness Formula” for funding public education while the Democrats have their versions embodied in Assembly and Senate proposals. Meanwhile, the state economy is plagued by pension deficits, a tenth credit downgrade during the Christie administration, shrinking revenues created by tax cuts agreed upon in the Gas Tax legislation, and the increased cost of goods and services including the rising cost for retiree health benefits. With K-12 education nearly one third of the annual state spending, flat funding of school district operations may very well continue, forcing cuts in programs and services for students under a two percent municipal tax levy cap. Speculation by State House insiders suggests that Governor Christie might include school district aid figures in his State budget proposal which reflect his “Fairness Formula,” surely creating turmoil for districts as the anticipated legal challenges to the formula’s constitutionality are mounted.
Governor Christie recently vowed to “politically create mischief” as a ‘lame duck’ Governor, citing his concerns about Last In First Out (LIFO) teacher layoffs, the agrarian school calendar, and the inequity of property taxes supporting education in differing municipalities. Phil Murphy, the leading Democratic candidate for Governor and one of Governor Christie’s harshest critics, laid out many of his thoughts about New Jersey public education in an address at the November NJEA Convention following his acceptance of the NJEA endorsement. Mr. Murphy spoke in support of:
- organized labor and the collective bargaining process;
- a constitutional amendment guaranteeing required pension payments;
- quarterly pension payments;
- the School Funding Reform Act with adjustments;
- the return of state takeover districts to local control; and
- the selection of an educator as NJ Education Commissioner.
He spoke in opposition to:
- vouchers and Chapter 78 pension reforms; and
- PARCC as a high school graduation requirement and component of teacher evaluation.
We must wait to identify the views of other candidates for Governor as they emerge during the months ahead and explore what they might hold for public education through 2021.
Let’s not overlook the importance of the State Board of Education which holds the responsibility and authority to determine the rules governing New Jersey public education. The current board has been viewed by many observers as giving a “rubber stamp” to the Governor’s initiatives. As of this writing however, Governor Christie has placed in nomination the appointment or reappointment of the thirteen state board members. Importantly, the current leadership of the board, President Mark Biedron and Vice President Joseph Fisicaro, have not received the Governor’s nomination, signaling what some see as a result of his dissatisfaction that his agenda, particularly on Charter School regulations and teacher preparation, have not moved quickly to adoption. Inasmuch as the term for a State Board Member is six years, Governor Christie appointees, if ratified by the Senate, will impact New Jersey public education long after the Governor leaves office.
PARCC assessments, educator evaluation, state funding for schools, student graduation requirements, the new federal ESSA legislation, and the rights of transgender students have all been part of the 2016 New Jersey Education news story. These issues will be gaining even greater attention throughout 2017 as the state transitions to the leadership of the new U.S. President and the next New Jersey Governor.
NJASA will advocate for public schools according to our Vision 2020 positions in support of NJASA members, their communities, and students.
“One Vision, Our Voice”