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IS STATE DELAYING RETURN OF THE BIG THREE TO LOCAL CONTROL?

COMMISSIONER UNABLE TO UPDATE LAWMAKERS ON STATUS OF STATE-OPERATED DISTRICTS

Newark NJ -- October 27, 2010

Earlier this month, the Joint Committee on the Public Schools held a hearing on implementation of legislation designed to quickly move the three State takeover districts -- Jersey City, Newark and Paterson -- back to local control.

The discussion focused on the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC), passed by the Legislature in 2005. QSAC created a road map for the return to local control, while also serving as the monitoring system for all districts in the state.

QSAC identifies five areas of operation in which a district must score 80 points or higher or face some form of intervention. Those areas are instruction and program, personnel, governance, fiscal management and operations.

When a State takeover district scores above 80 points on a particular component, the State Board of Education may grant approval for the Department of Education to initiate the transition to local control for those areas. A complete transition to local control cannot occur until a district scores 80 points or higher in all five areas of school district effectiveness. The three takeover districts have scored above 80 in a few areas, but none have achieved a score of 80 in all five.

At the hearing, Joint Committee members hoped to glean information about the State's plans for improving QSAC scores in the takeover districts and relinquishing control there. Invited by the Committee to provide this information, Acting Commissioner of Education Rochelle Hendricks was unable to supply specific details but agreed to answer written questions from Committee members in this regard.

"I applaud the Joint Committee for restarting this important discussion," said former Assemblyman Craig Stanley, who, as Chair of the Education Committee, wrote the QSAC law. "One of our intentions in passage of the QSAC law was to establish a sensible and relatively immediate path back to local control for Newark, Jersey City and Paterson. That we still aren't there five years later is, frankly, astonishing."

In addition to testimony from the Acting Commissioner, the Joint Committee also heard from representatives of the Office of Legislative Services (OLS); former Newark Superintendent Marion Bolden; Kathleen Witcher, longtime member of the NJ NAACP Education Committee; and Jerome Harris, chair of the NJ Black Issues Convention.

Marion Bolden noted that her expectation when she was superintendent was that Newark would be returned to local control in the short term based on QSAC criteria and the significant progress made in the district as a result of the additional resources provided by the Abbott decisions.

Because QSAC monitors traditional public schools only, Joint Committee members questioned whether the legislation should be extended to charter schools as well. Senator Rice, who expressed concerns about charter school accountability, was joined by Ms. Witcher and Mr. Harris in support of QSAC expansion.

Mr. Harris spoke about the lack of effort on the part of the Department of Education to fully implement QSAC, noting that Department staff had decreased by 40% in the past three years. He expressed support for the QSAC model, but noted that appropriate resources needed to be put in place.

Department representatives informed the Joint Committee that they would be putting together an internal committee to review QSAC and make recommendations for improving the monitoring system. Senator Rice urged them to add members of the public to that committee.

The Senator informed Department and OLS representatives that the Joint Committee would be sending them a list of questions requesting specific information about QSAC and school level data from both traditional and charter schools. He also announced his intention to hold future hearings on these issues.

Prior to the meeting, Education Law Center submitted written testimony to the Joint Committee, including suggested questions for the NJ Department of Education on QSAC and the return to local control of the three takeover districts.

Education Law Center Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Policy & Outreach Coordinator
email: skrengel@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x24