Save Our School NJ Cautiously Looks Forward to a Post Chris Christie New Jersey

metalogoIt’s been eight years since Chris Christie was sworn in as governor and the results are significant.

  • The governor underfunded New Jersey’s public schools by $9 billion dollars, the equivalent of one entire year of state aid, while holding charter schools harmless, and in some cases, increasing charter funding.
  • In exchange for eliminating the annual vote on school budgets, Chris Christie capped the annual increase in local property taxes to 2%.
  • The governor, through a State Board of Education he controls, imposed costly, unfunded mandates like Common Core and PARCC on school districts.
  • The number of charter schools tripled under Chris Christie. In state-controlled school districts like Newark and Camden, charter school enrollment is approaching 40%. Most charter schools enroll the easiest to educate students, leaving urban districts with less money to educate an increasingly expensive population of students.
  • Superintendent pay was capped under this governor, resulting in an exodus of experienced superintendents to neighboring states like Pennsylvania and New York.
  • In the last 7 months of his second term, Chris Christie packed the State Board of Education with 8 new appointees on a 13-member board, thereby denying Governor-elect Phil Murphy the chance to appoint a majority of the board until 2021. Some of the seats had been vacant for years. One of the newest members has affiliations with KIPP and TFA.

Public education advocates are eager to see what Inauguration Day, January 16, 2018 will bring. They heard Governor-elect Phil Murphy talk on the campaign trail about the need for full funding for New Jersey’s (best in the nation) public school funding formula, an end to the madness that is high stakes standardized testing and perhaps an end to a high school exit exam, and a possible reset on charters.

Here’s what Save Our Schools New Jersey and our allies will be focusing on:

School funding

  • New Jersey has the most progressive funding formula in the nation. Governor Christie was unsuccessful in his numerous attempts to reduce funding for the state’s most needy students. That said, the formula is currently underfunded by $1 billion dollars per year and has not been updated to account for enrollment changes. Given our state’s dire financial position, the increase in school funding will most likely be accomplished over a period of 4 to 5 years. The good news is that strong support exists all over the state for the school funding formula, which allocates state aid on the basis of a student’s needs. 

High Stakes Testing

  • PARCC/Over-testing – New Jersey’s contract with PARCC expires in June of 2018. Public education advocates will ask the governor-elect to live up to his campaign promise for a more reasonable assessment that takes less time and does not impact authentic learning. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires 2 tests in high school but New Jersey currently tests 6 times in high school. Public education advocates will push for a return to just 2 high school exams.
  • High School Exit Exam – ESSA does not require a high school exit exam but New Jersey is one of ___ states with state legislation requiring students to pass a standardized test to graduate from high school. New Jersey’s law requires a basic skills test in 11th grade. a requirement that PARCC does not meet… If the New Jersey law requiring high school exit testing cannot be revised or abolished, the alternative would be to adopt an exit exam that complies with legislative intent.
  • Reduce/Eliminate the Use of Test Scores in Teacher Evaluations – ESSA also doesn’t require states to use student test scores in teacher evaluations. Knowing that there is opposition within the Democratic leadership of the New Jersey Senate to decoupling assessments and teachers’ evaluations, the new administration can put forward changes to the existing regulations to alter the percentage from 30% to as low as 1 or 2%. Regulatory changes do not require legislative approval, but must be adopted by the State Board of Education, which, as described earlier, will be influenced by Christie’s legacy for some time to come.

Charter Schools 

  • Charter Expansion – New Jersey’s charter school law is over 20 years old, has never been amended, and has loopholes big enough to drive a truck through. The Christie administration has taken advantage of these loopholes to expand charter schools without requiring the standard application process, which has favored large charter school chains over mom and pop charters.
  • Moratorium on New Charter School Seats – Governor-elect Murphy called for a “pause” on the approval of new charter schools. The charter industry pushed back aggressively against any limits on the expansion of their market share.. Public education advocates are staying very engaged on this important topic and waiting to see if the Murphy Administration acts on the campaign promises or gives in to the charter school lobby.
  • Transparency/Accountability – Public education advocates have called repeatedly for increased accountability and transparency for charter schools, focusing on issues like giving the local community a voice in deciding whether a charter school gets approved; more transparent financial reporting that is easily accessible to the public; changing enrollment procedures so that charter schools serve a similar demographic as their sending district(s); an end to expedited charter renewals; and an end to funding that holds charter schools harmless while penalizing school districts.

Good Government

  • Power of the governor – It’s well known that New Jersey has one of the most powerful governors in the nation. The governor appoints the commissioner of education, as well as all the members of the State Board of Education. Public education advocates want the State Board to be appointed in a way that would minimize political deal-making and allow for more participation by the public. Currently, some State Board members function only as foot soldiers for the governor and the public often feels that no one is listening or representing them.
  • Qualifications to Serve on State Board – Public education advocates will also call for a minimum set of qualifications to serve on the State Board. Fundraising for the governor should not qualify someone for the role of statewide public education oversight. Neither should a life in private schools. A change like this may require a change to the State Constitution, unless a governor willingly shares his/her power.

It remains to be seen how Governor-elect Phil Murphy will handle the legislature and all the interest groups that are clamoring for their agendas to be fulfilled. As George Washington said to Alexander Hamilton, “Winning is easy; governing is harder.” Despite all the challenges, the incoming Governor’s pro-public education agenda is a substantial improvement to the destructive actions of his predecessor and public education advocates look forward with cautious optimism to a new day in Trenton come January 16, 2018.

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