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Speak Out at the NJ State Board

January 15, 2013

On January 16, education advocates will mobilize at the NJ State Board of Education to raise a host of concerns about current Department policies and procedures under Commissioner Chris Cerf.

The policy concerns range from changes in pre-K, special education and charter school programs to the Department’s new Regional Achievement Centers and NCLB waiver plans. The Governor’s Education Transformation Task Force report, released last September, has recommended hundreds of regulatory and statutory proposals, many of which are being implemented without thorough public or legislative review.

Recent changes in the State Board’s public testimony processes have also limited public access during a period of accelerated and controversial change in education policy under the Christie Administration. Under the Board’s new procedures, public testimony sessions that were already limited by time and topic, and presided over by only a few of the Board’s 13 members, are now scheduled at inconsistent times. Instead of the customary 3pm start time, public testimony sessions now begin whenever the Board’s regular business meetings end. This makes it harder for parents, advocates, and other citizens to plan and be heard. The Department has also posted major initiatives with little advance notice and, at times, modified proposals after they were posted, making them “a moving target.”

The combination of restricted public access and accelerated implementation of new policies has limited oversight and transparency of the Department’s activities. For example, the Department’s massive NCLB waiver application, which outlined “interventions” in hundreds of newly categorized “focus” and “priority” schools and defined a “new accountability system” for all NJ schools and districts has been implemented with minimal public knowledge and no legislative review. Implementation of these plans is already well underway even though the Department has yet to adopt final regulations governing such activity as required by NJ’s Administrative Procedures Act. NJDOE has also funded some of its plans with private funds under agreements that surfaced only after ELC and other advocates used the state’s Open Public Records Act to force their disclosure.

On January 16, parents, education and civil rights groups will join voices at the Board’s scheduled public testimony session to address specific Department proposals and the need to expand public access to the policymaking process. They will also call on the legislature to step up its oversight of Department activities to protect the interests of NJ school children and the state’s public education system.



Agenda: State Board of Education

NJ Spotlight

Public participation has always been a dicey topic with the state board, with testimony for years pushed off to the afternoon of the monthly meetings. Often, just a fraction of the board stays for the testimony. Last year, the board did away with the specific scheduling of a time for testimony, Now, it’s the last item on the agenda, whenever that may come. Some parent and community activists have objected, saying it makes it even harder for people to set aside time to come to Trenton…Save Our Schools NJ, the advocacy group, plans to testify and ask the board to go back to its previous system of setting aside a specific time for testimony. It also asks that any time limits be removed, and that the full board be present.

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