What Are Gov. Murphy's Immediate Priorities for Educating NJ Students?
The JEOPARDY game show answer is: “School Funding, Student Assessments and Charter Schools.” The correct answer: “What are Governor Murphy’s immediate priorities for educating New Jersey students?” Let’s review the progress in these areas.
Governor Phil Murphy promised during his campaign to fully fund public schools according to the current state formula while noting that it needed to be “modernized.” He established a goal of “full, fair funding by the 2021-2022 school year.” His first budget proposal for the 2018/19 school year increases state aid that goes directly to school districts by $283.6 million. Under the funding plan, more than 94 percent of school districts would receive additional state aid and no school district will see a decrease in K-12 formula aid. The plan proposes the largest increase in preschool funding in more than a decade; a $2 million grant program to help high schools implement college-level computer science courses, and to support teacher training for those courses; and a $66 million increase in school security aid.
The Governor’s budget proposal met with immediate opposition in the Legislature. Senate President Steve Sweeney responded with proposed legislation that would rework New Jersey’s school-funding law to appropriate more funding to school districts where state aid hasn’t been keeping pace with enrollment. The Senate President has also indicated his intention to shut down state government if his changes to the Governor’s budget proposal were not made.
The Senate President’s aim is to increase support to underfunded districts while reducing the overfunding of others during a seven-year period. This would be facilitated by eliminating enrollment caps to funding for growing school districts. Another key element is the reduction of “adjustment aid” that has been provided to districts where enrollment doesn’t justify it. Districts would be given a chance to address that revenue loss by temporarily easing the state’s 2 percent limit on local property-tax increases. Jersey City, which could lose $145 million in aid, would also be allowed to levy a local payroll tax to help replace lost school funds.
As an aside, the full Senate vote on the nomination of Dr. Lamont Repollet as Education Commissioner was withheld for a period until the Senate President received assurances of advancing changes to education funding for the upcoming school year.
The Governor, the Senate President and the Assembly Speaker are continuing their debate over the total increase in the state budget for the coming fiscal year as well as to how to raise the needed additional funds. The deadline for adopting a new budget is June 30, and if an accord is not reached New Jersey state government will close until a budget is adopted.
Newly confirmed Commissioner Lamont Repollet has been charged by Governor Phil Murphy with two immediate priorities for his education agenda: 1. Eliminate PARCC assessments and 2. Conduct a comprehensive review of charter schools in educating New Jersey students.
Since the campaign, Governor Phil Murphy has indicated that PARCC was not to be continued as the assessment instrument for New Jersey students. He stated: “The ERA of high stakes, high stress standardized tests in New Jersey must end, and I will see that it does. We must get back to the simple premise of letting teachers use classroom time to teach to their students’ needs, and not to a test.” His campaign promises include: “End PARCC testing; Eliminate the exit test graduation requirement; and Solicit educator input to take advantage of the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which gives states the ability to develop innovative, lower-stakes assessments that will reduce student and educator stress and save valuable classroom time and money.”
Commissioner Repollet has convened a task force of education leaders to provide input and guidance on the move away from PARCC and is conducting input sessions throughout the state to hear from educators and others about views on assessment and moving away from PARCC to a new generation of assessments for New Jersey students. State and federal laws require student assessments and while PARCC will not be the future assessment in the long term, it will be through the 2018-19 school year as New Jersey has a contract with PARCC through that period.
In conversation and testimony, Commissioner Repollet has noted that the Governor has charged him with completing a comprehensive review of the state’s charter school law and school operation. The Governor campaigned on taking a "time out" on charter school applications until the state can find out what's working and what's not. Murphy, a Democrat, has said he wants to put a hold on expanding charter schools until his administration can review the law and figure out what's working and what's not. Commissioner Repollet pressed on the issue of charter schools during his Senate confirmation hearing said that charter applications would continue to be reviewed as the required assessment was being completed.
NJASA is monitoring developments as the budget negotiations continue and will keep you updated with information on the final, approved budget. Our Association is both sponsoring input forums on student assessment and participating in the discussions regarding modifications to the assessment system for students.
NJASA and NJPSA have joined together to advocate for modifying high school graduation requirements and decoupling standardized student assessments from educator performance evaluations. We expect that these are areas that can see change for the upcoming school year.
Stay tuned to the New Jersey Association of School Administrators website at www.njasa.net, our Facebook page , and follow us on Twitter for up-to-date information on these critical issues and our professional programs.