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Rice Calls On Feds To Look Into State Control Of Newark, Jersey City And Paterson Schools

Senator Ronald L. Rice, D-Essex, testifies during the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing regarding the Opportunity Scholarship Act.

Says State Regulators Refuse to Follow Law to Return Control to Local Residents

NEWARK – At a news conference today at Newark City Hall, State Senator Ronald L. Rice announced that he is seeking the intervention of federal regulators to look into the State’s refusal to follow the process, outlined in State law, to return the school districts in Newark, Jersey City and Paterson to local control.

“For 20 years, residents in Newark, Jersey City and Paterson have been unable to determine their own destiny when it comes to public education, and now, even though the districts have met performance guidelines, the State still refuses to grant local control back to the residents,” said Senator Rice, D-Essex. “This is the epitome of taxation without representation, as local residents are required to pay property taxes to fund the school system, yet have no voice as to the direction of that school system. Hopefully, federal officials can review the situation, and put pressure on the State to follow the letter of the law and give a voice back to the people in Newark, Paterson and Jersey City.”

Senator Rice was joined at the news conference by representatives from the State NAACP, clergy members and local school board members who are also calling on federal regulators to act.

Under the QSAC (Quality Single Accountability Continuum) law, school districts in New Jersey must meet certain performance benchmarks, or face intervention from the State. Of the 563 school districts which are evaluated through the QSAC process, 456 districts are considered “high performing” districts, meaning they do not require additional State oversight. The remaining 107 school districts do not meet the performance threshold, and face State intervention, whether it is the placement of a special monitor, the development of a district-wide improvement plan, or, in the case of Newark, Jersey City and Paterson, total control from the State. While the three districts under total State control have shown improvement in meeting benchmarks, the State Department of Education has not taken any steps to return those districts to local control, as it is required to do under the QSAC legislation.

While Newark, Paterson and Jersey City remain under State control, a vast majority of the 107 school districts which do not meet the performance benchmarks under QSAC will receive no State oversight – as a result of understaffing at the Department of Education.

“It’s concerning to me that the three largest school districts in the State of New Jersey – Newark, Paterson and Jersey City – should remain under State control indefinitely, despite showing signs of improvement, while nearly 100 other districts show signs of trouble and receive no intervention,” said Senator Rice. “It seems to me that if the quality of public education is the only motivator in which districts receive more oversight and which districts receive less, the Department might want to look at moving resources away from districts that are showing improvement, and instead put those resources into fixing the problems in the districts that are falling behind. Unfortunately, I think this has less to do about the quality of public education, and more to do with making a statement in favor of privatizing education in New Jersey.”

Senator Rice pointed to the experiences in Newark, in which the district met all but one of the benchmarks under the QSAC legislation last year. Under the law, State regulators should have started the process to return some of the core functions of the school district back to a local board of education. However, Education Commissioner Chris Cerf refused, calling the QSAC legislation flawed, and noting that the district had not yet met all of the benchmarks for local control.

“You can’t have it both ways – either QSAC is flawed, or it is a successful indicator of district performance,” said Senator Rice. “Under the law, a district does not have to meet all benchmarks to begin moving towards local control, but Commissioner Cerf has chosen to ignore that aspect of the law with absolutely no legal justification to do so. The end result is the disenfranchisement of the population in Newark, Paterson and Jersey City, based not on legal standing, nor on performance under quantifiable benchmarks, but merely on the Commissioner’s say-so.

“In my mind, and in the minds of many New Jerseyans, these are clearly issues of civil rights violations and taxation without representation,” added Senator Rice. “The Commissioner of Education cannot suspend the voting rights of New Jerseyans on a whim, but that is what is happening in Newark, Paterson and Jersey City when it comes to their right to vote on education issues within their municipality. I look forward to federal regulators reviewing the situation, and standing up for the rights of residents in these three cities.”

Senator Rice said that he would be meeting in private with representatives from the national NAACP Legal Defense Fund at the State NAACP conference – which will take place from September 7 to September 9 – to explore the option of the national organization joining in efforts to force the State Department of Education to follow the letter of the QSAC law.