Proposal to Broad Foundation Seeks Millions for Closures, “Recovery District”
In response to a request under the NJ Open Public Records Act (OPRA), Education Law Center has obtained a confidential proposal prepared for the Broad Foundation by the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) to “turnaround,” take control, and potentially close over 200 public schools over the next three years.
NJ Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf submitted a draft “School Turnaround Proposal” to the Eli Broad Foundation in November 2011, seeking to secure millions in grant funds from the private, Los Angeles-based foundation. The draft formed the basis of a final proposal, submitted February 2012, requesting $7.6 million in grant funds.
The proposals provide new details on NJDOE plans to aggressively “intervene” in schools recently designated as “priority” and “focus” schools based mostly on low test scores, including:
- reallocation of $24 million per year in NJDOE funds and “repurposing” of 166 employees to seven Regional Achievement Centers (RAC) to direct “advanced interventions” in the targeted schools;
- proposed legislation eliminating NJ’s district monitoring statute, known as the Quality School Accountability Continuum (QSAC);
- creation of an “Achievement School District” (ASD) – based on a “recovery district” model borrowed from post-Katrina New Orleans – in which schools are placed under the direct control of the Commissioner with the following conditions:
- no possible appeal by school or district of placement in ASD;
- suspension of existing collective bargaining agreements;
- turning over management of schools to private charter or Education Management Organizations (EMO), with the EMO controlling all personnel decisions upon takeover;
- returning the state operated districts (Newark, Jersey City and Paterson) to “local control” within four years, but keeping some schools in those districts in the ASD;
- taking State control of any district with more than 40% low-performing “priority schools;”
- closing schools that don’t show enough improvement after two years.
The final proposal says that “direct interventions” will “reach approximately 253 schools and almost 185,000 students” and begin “as early as the fall of 2012.”
In March 2012, the Broad Foundation notified Commissioner Cerf that NJDOE would receive $1.9 million in foundation funds to support the plan. In an email, the Commissioner said it was “the largest grant [Broad] has ever made to a state dept of education.”
It is unclear whether NJDOE received these funds directly. In June, the State Board of Education approved receipt of $430,000 in Broad funds – $290,000 to support the RACs and $140,000 for oversight of charter schools. The State Board also approved a separate $200,000 grant from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s Startup:Education foundation to “hire a grants writer and attract additional funds to support the NJDOE’s innovation agenda.”
However, it is not clear from the documents obtained by ELC whether the Broad funds approved by the State Board in June were part of the larger Broad grant or a separate one. Broad’s March 12 award letter to Commissioner Cerf notes, “Per your designation, the grant funds will be directed to your fiscal sponsor, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).” ELC has submitted additional OPRA requests seeking clarification of the distribution and oversight of these funds.
In June, the Legislature removed a $1.7 million allocation from the State Education Department Budget for the RACs, citing a lack of specificity as to how NJDOE would use the funds. Legislators expressed concern that NJDOE was by-passing and/or duplicating the Department’s county offices and ignoring efforts to promote “greater consolidation and efficiencies.”Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Vincent Prieto said, “We didn’t know exactly what they are doing with this.”
There is no evidence that Cerf submitted the plans for the RACs, the elimination of QSAC, or the creation of the ASD to the State Board or to Legislators prior to submission to the Broad Foundation.
Broad is well known for placing foundation-trained administrators in key positions in urban school districts. A Broad Center memo, included in the OPRA documents, boasts that the Foundation has “over 30 sitting superintendents in large urban systems, as well as state superintendents in four of the most reform-oriented states – Delaware, Rhode Island, Louisiana and New Jersey.” Broad also aggressively promotes expansion of charter schools, public school closures, and corporate-style management of public education.
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