While Governor Jon Corzine continues to tout the benefits of the Abbott preschool program – benefits reconfirmed by a study released last month – the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) has proposed new preschool regulations that pose a significant challenge to program expansion.
The School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) signed into law in January 2008 mandates extension of the successful, high quality, Abbott preschool program to all low-income students. But fulfilling the promise of free, full-day preschool for all three- and four-year-olds in the so-called “universal” districts (where 40% or more of the student population is classified as at-risk) and to all other at-risk children in the state will be more difficult under the new regulations.
Preschool expansion has been a centerpiece of the state’s education policy, but the NJDOE appears to be shifting focus and resources away from the program. A comparison of the proposed preschool regulations with those currently in effect shows a number of significant changes in funding and program. Of even greater concern, the proposed regulations deviate in several respects from governing law.
For example, under the SFRA, districts are supposed to receive both preschool aid and start-up funds in the 2009-10 school year. But the new regulations do not explicitly require aid for 2009-10, and fail to make any provision at all for start-up funds.
Preschool expansion is further weakened by the proposed new rules governing district planning. The SFRA requires the submission of both a five-year plan and annual updates to NJDOE detailing how each district will ensure implementation of full-day preschool for all eligible students by 2013-14. The annual update must be “based on actual implementation experience” and include revised pupil projections “in accordance with that experience.”
The proposed regulations eliminate this requirement, referring instead to the submission of a five-year plan “and/or” an annual update. Without required annual updates based on actual experience it will be impossible for NJDOE to ensure that all districts are on the path to full implementation of high quality preschool by the target date.
Perhaps most distressing, the proposed regulations violate Abbott preschool class size requirements, thereby eliminating one of the most important features of this nationally recognized program. The NJDOE has proposed class sizes of up to 18 preschoolers, though current regulations, based on NJ Supreme Court decisions in the Abbott case, cap class size at fifteen students.
The NJDOE will be accepting written comments on the proposed regulations through September 4, 2009. Advocates are urged to submit comments on the issues described above as well as other aspects of the proposed regulations that may delay or dilute the preschool expansion program as set forth in the SFRA.
Submit comments to:
Dr. Ellen Wolock
New Jersey Department of Education
River View Executive Plaza
Building 100, P.O. Box 500
Trenton, NJ 08625-0500 Reference:
Proposed preschool regulations, N.J.A.C. 6A:13A
Proposal Number: PRN 2009-211
For more information, contact:
Policy & Outreach Coordinator
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications