Changes Needed to Address Governor Christie’s Misuse of State Operation
In testimony before the Senate Education Committee today, Education Law Center will raise significant concerns about the Commissioner of Education’s implementation of New Jersey’s school district monitoring system as it applies to Newark, Jersey City, Paterson and Camden – districts under full State operation. ELC will also propose specific amendments to the State Takeover Law to address those concerns.
Adopted in 2005, QSAC, or the Quality Single Accountability System, established a statewide framework to evaluate districts in five separate functional areas – governance, fiscal management, personnel, operations, and curriculum and instruction. QSAC also was designed to create a pathway for state-operated districts to regain local control by demonstrating a level of functionality in the five areas.
Under the Christie administration, QSAC has not been applied in state takeover districts as intended by the Legislature. The Governor has used the state operated districts to advance his preferred education reforms – increasing the number of charter schools, instituting merit pay, closing and selling schools and, most recently in Newark, requesting a waiver from tenure requirements. The Governor’s intentions were made clear in March 2011, when he publicly stated that the State would run the Newark schools whether or not the district achieved satisfactory performance under QSAC.
To ensure that QSAC operates as it was originally intended – with the NJ Department of Education (DOE) working with takeover districts to improve as quickly as possible in order to achieve prompt restoration of local control – ELC recommends that the Legislature make the following amendments to the statute:
- require that an independent entity, under contract with the DOE, perform QSAC comprehensive evaluations and six-month progress reviews of districts under full State intervention;
- clarify the statute to make clear and unambiguous that achievement of satisfactory performance (scoring above 80 on QSAC indicators) on the comprehensive evaluation in any area requires the Commissioner to promptly restore local control in that area;
- clarify the role of the Advisory School Board in state takeover districts to ensure it operates in the same manner as school boards in districts enjoying local control, including voting, except for the authority of the State Superintendent to veto an Advisory Board vote;
- establish that DOE progress reviews of the implementation of a district’s improvement plan must be conducted every six months and made public within one month;
- ensure that any application for a new charter school, or amendment to an existing charter, is submitted to the Advisory Board with an opportunity to file comments on the application;
- amend QSAC to require the Commissioner to demonstrate a sustained lack of progress in the implementation of an improvement plan in any Order to Show Cause to initiate full or partial state intervention.
In addition, ELC urges the Legislature both to enact pending legislation to give Advisory Boards in state takeover districts authority over whether to approve the closing of a district school, and to amend the Urban Hope Act to require Advisory Board approval before a district can submit an application for a renaissance school.
“Takeover was intended for the State to work cooperatively with districts to bring about improvements in basic operations, including personnel and governance,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “Our proposed amendments will restore this core mission and put an end Governor Christie’s improper use of State takeover to promote his own education agenda by maintaining control indefinitely. After more than two decades in Jersey City and Paterson and almost 20 years in Newark, it’s time to put in place an expedited exit strategy.”
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