This webpage contains a summary of the most significant education-related policy developments that have occurred in and around the State House in recent weeks. Please revisit this page periodically as it will be regularly updated with any new information that may be of significance to NJSBA members.
On February 24th, Governor Christie unveiled his proposed budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year. Overall, the state’s proposed budget calls for $33.8 billion in spending, a 3.1 percent increase over the FY2015 adjusted appropriation. Total state aid to school districts will total more than $9 billion, but remains remain essentially flat compared to FY2015, ticking up just slightly by $4.6 million. Overall, state spending on K-12 education, which includes contributions to the Teacher’s Pension and Annuity Fund, post-retirement medical benefits, social security payments and school construction debt service, will rise by $811 million under the Christie budget, from approximately $11.94 billion to more than $12.75 billion.
Formula aid, preschool education aid, PARCC readiness aid, extraordinary special education aid, and most other categories of aid are slightly increased or remain at the same funding level as the current year. In state education spending, only school choice aid and debt service aid saw significant increases. Nonpublic school aid, charter school aid, and school building aid all saw small decreases.
More specifically, the governor’s proposed education spending plan includes:
The bulk of the funding increases for education are in the direct payments the state makes for teacher benefits and in SDA debt service. This year’s payment into the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund (TPAF) nearly doubles from $415.4 million to $802.4 million. Other increases include payments for post-retirement medical benefits, up $45.5 million to $1.1 billion for this upcoming year. Debt service for SDA projects also increases markedly from $520 million to $884 million in the projected budget.
New Jersey’s local school districts received notification of their projected state school aid under the governor’s proposed 2015-2016 budget. District-by-district aid numbers are available here.
Follow the links below for a complete summary of the proposed budget as well as the NJSBA’s statement on the spending plan.
Governor Christie’s budget address focused largely on the state’s public employee pension crisis. He referenced a 51-page report by the New Jersey Pension and Health Benefits Study Commission and titled “A Roadmap to Resolution,” which was released on the same day of his speech. The commission recommended freezing the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund at its current level (that is, not allowing any new benefits to accrue under that system) and creating a new program that would realign state and local district responsibility for pension and retiree health benefit costs. The report proposes shifting the costs of education retiree health and retirement costs from the state to local school districts. These costs would be offset by substantially reducing the cost of public employee health care. The commission believes that the implementation of the proposed reforms would be cost neutral to local governments.
The commission’s recommendations, which the Governor publicly endorsed, would require changes in state law and voter approval of a Constitutional amendment. The NJSBA will continue to review the recommendations of the study commission and advocate in the best interests of local boards of education. In his March 9th Reflections column, which can be accessed here, NJSBA Executive Director Dr. Larry Feinsod discussed the report and the commission’s proposals. Below you can access the final report, a memorandum signed by commission members and NJEA representatives, and the commission’s status report from last fall.
NJSBA has drafted sample resolution on the pension and health Benefits reform proposal. Local school boards can use this sample resolution as the basis to express their beliefs on this issue.”
On January 20th, the “Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments” published its interim report. The statewide panel was created by executive order and was appointed by the governor to study the volume, frequency and impact of assessments in New Jersey schools. In the interim report, it recommended that the state, and districts themselves, should review the “universe of testing” in schools, and how it impacts instructional and learning time.
The commission is charged with reviewing and providing recommendations about the volume, frequency and impact of student assessments occurring throughout New Jersey school districts, including those administered for college admission. The commission is also examining possible recommendations regarding the Common Core State Standards and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers (PARCC) assessments. Commission recommendations will be part of a final report due to the Governor. Per the executive order creating the commission, those recommendations are due by July 31, 2015. The NJSBA Executive Director Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod is a member of the commission.
Following release of the interim report, the nine-member commission gathered public testimony on assessments at three separate hearings. A user-friendly website was created to provide information on the work of the study commission and a mechanism for public input and feedback.
Meanwhile, as the study commission continues its deliberations, the General Assembly has considered several legislative proposals regarding standardized testing, including:
The NJSBA and Department of Education continue to provide school districts and other stakeholders with information regarding New Jersey’s student testing regime and protocol. Board members are encouraged to review the NJSBA’s responses to frequently asked questions about a school board’s responsibility related to the administration of PARCC. In addition, the Commissioner of Education has shared a letter he received from federal education officials declaring that states must assess all students, or risk losing federal funds.
Legislation that would repeal the cap on superintendent salaries continues to advance through the legislative process. S-1987, which would explicitly prohibit the Commissioner of Education from regulating the maximum salary a board of education may pay its chief school administrator, was released from the Senate Education Committee last June. As the bill has a fiscal impact, it was second-referenced to the Senate Budget and Appropriations. In February, the budget committee advanced S-1987, which may now be posted for a vote by the full Senate. At both committee meetings, the NJSBA testified in strong support of the legislation. The Assembly version, A-2930, has not been scheduled for a hearing to date.
The regulations that established the superintendent salary cap are scheduled to expire in November 2016. It is unknown whether they will be readopted, amended, or allowed to expire at that time. Boards of education may express their formal support for repeal of the caps by adopting a resolution urging passage of S-1987/A-2930 and forwarding it to the Legislature, Governor and NJSBA. To date, more than 80 boards of education from across the date have adopted such a resolution.
In addition to those mentioned above, the Legislature has advanced several education-related measures since the beginning of 2015. The following constitutes a sample of bills that have particular relevance to NJSBA members and are expected to receive further consideration by the Legislature and/or Governor in the weeks and months ahead:
Thus far in 2015, the Governor has signed into law two measures impacting New Jersey’s school districts: