Transition is defined as movement, development, or evolution from one form, stage, or style to another. New Jersey education politics has begun a transition from the current policies of the Christie administration to the evolving policies of a likely Democrat successor. Many political pundits suggest that Phil Murphy is the frontrunner in this year’s gubernatorial race. Regardless of the successful candidate, the climate is one of change in several areas. Let’s look at a few.
- State Funding
On February 28 during his budget address, Governor Christie challenged legislators to work with him to accomplish changes for the next fiscal school year within 100 days. The K-12 proposed budget accounts for 39% of the total state budget, an increase from the prior year primarily due to additional pension contributions. The Governor and legislative leaders have been discussing adjustments to the state school funding plan for the better part of a year, primarily in response to the Governor’s recommendation to provide equal state aid to every New Jersey public school student. While school district budgets are now being finalized, the latest public comments by state leaders infer that changes might indeed be made to state aid allocations based on any compromise agreement between the Governor and legislative leaders on the state budget. This will certainly be disruptive to the completed planning process and adopted spending plans for the 2017/18 school year.
Governor Christie’s budget proposal includes a $2.5B pension payment in the next fiscal year, approximately half of what is recommended. While this recommendation represents the largest annual contribution ever to support the pension fund, it still results in a growing financial liability for the country’s worst-funded pension system. Governor Christie and legislators have apparently warmed-up to the idea of using the state’s lottery income to support the pension program, but recent state revenue news has not been good with the lottery income falling short of projections as well as the Office of Legislative Services reporting earlier this month that there will be an overall $223M budget deficit by the end of the fiscal year. No one has indicated where the finances will be obtained to support the programs that the lottery revenues currently fund (see the Financial Corner this month).
Not only is the Governor’s seat up for election, but every legislator in the Assembly and Senate will stand for election in November. What will the education issues be that legislators will have to address during their races? Clearly, school finance and pension reform will remain high on the list. But, so will the issues of student assessment, high school graduation requirements, and educator evaluation. There certainly has been great political interest in recent years to eliminate PARCC assessments, discontinue the use of standardized assessments in educator evaluation, and to eliminate proficiency as measured by standardized assessments as a requirement to graduate high school.
Knowing that the last mentioned issues will be hot election topics, NJASA has teamed with the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association to form two committees tasked with developing a joint position on both recommended high school graduation requirements and educator accountability, each of which will also address standardized assessments. The leaders of the two associations know that it is important that the perspective of practicing administrators be heard at the policy table where decisions will affect teaching and learning in the state’s public schools. Two respected leaders are leading the committees' work. Dr. Brian Zychowski, Chief Education Officer, North Brunswick School District, chairs the Educator Accountability Task Force; and Ms. Karen Bingert, Hillsborough High School Principal, chairs the Graduation Standards Committee. Look for the joint position statements to be published in the months leading up to the November election.
New Jersey Department of Education
Transition is certainly the status with the Department as well as with the State Board of Education. Commissioner David Hespe resigned in September, 2016, and Ms. Kimberley Harrington, Chief Academic Officer, was named by Governor Christie as his replacement. She is currently guiding the NJDOE through a modification of the school district monitoring system known as the Quality School Accountability Continuum, commonly called NJQSAC. The proposal, unveiled during the April State Board of Education meeting, has received initial support for its movement toward these goals:
- Ensure indicators are, where possible, clear, objective and measurable.
- Ensure point values and weighting of indicators reflect state priorities and scoring is easier to understand.
- Focus on growth and performance for all students throughout the district.
- Ensure all accountability systems (state, local, federal) complement one another to create a cohesive set of goals for students, educators, and districts.
- Ensure NJQSAC overall ratings align with measures used in other accountability systems (e.g., PARCC proficiency, student growth, graduation rates).
- Reduce the number of overall indicators and further eliminate redundancy.
- Reduce the time and resources educators must prepare for a NJQSAC visit, allowing more time to focus on instructional needs of the district.
- Focus NJDOE’s role more on support rather than compliance.
NJASA leaders and members are already providing feedback to Commissioner Harrington and NJDOE staff regarding the proposal and the specific indicators in the District Performance Review documents.
Stay tuned to NJASA communications as the TRANSITION evolves during the year ahead and learn of the advocacy actions that you and our colleagues will take in the interest of our students, schools and communities.
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