Ruiz-Pou Bill Clarifying Mechanism For Returning State-Operated School Districts to Local Control Advances

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Nellie Pou to clarify the mechanism for school districts to move from state intervention back to local control was approved today by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

“The current QSAC law, the mechanism for returning schools to local control, is flawed,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “School districts under state intervention that are making progress and demonstrating success should be returned to local control in those particular areas. If a district achieves 80 percent or greater in a particular category, there should not also be a subjective lever that can be utilized at the state level that prevents control in that area from returning to the district. School districts should have clear parameters for regaining local control that provides everyone involved with certainty about their next steps. This legislation is a major step forward in that process.

“I am also hopeful that as we move forward with this legislation, the Department of Education, which recently took action to address issues with QSAC for high performing districts, will also address the issues within the system faced by state-controlled districts,” Ruiz added.

“A district which meets 80 to 100 percent of the quality performance indicators in an area of school district effectiveness is considered to be successfully performing in that area. Yet, we have seen school districts meet those benchmarks without subsequent action at the state level to remove control,” said Senator Pou (D-Bergen and Passaic). “When districts achieve results that meet the state guidelines for effectiveness, they should be granted the local control that they were promised and that the community deserves. This legislation aims to ensure that happens.”

The bill (S-1895) would clarify the mechanism for school districts to move from State intervention back to local control. Currently all school districts are evaluated under the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJ QSAC). NJ QSAC evaluates school districts based upon the following criteria: instruction and program; personnel; fiscal management; operations; and governance. Under the bill a district under State control, receiving 80% or higher in one of the five evaluation areas would be removed from State control in that area.  Additionally, the bill would prohibit the Commissioner of Education and the State Board of Education from using any other factor in determining to withdraw from intervention in an area of school district effectiveness.

Four school districts in New Jersey are under some form of state control: Newark (since 1995), Paterson (since 1991), Jersey City (since 1988) and Camden (since 2013). In June, the state Board of Education voted to return fiscal management to Newark and operations control to Paterson after high scores in those particular areas. However, other areas in which the districts achieved high scores remained under state control. The bill approved today is part of a process being undertaken by Senator Ruiz to examine the QSAC law and ensure fairness and certainty for districts.

The bill was approved by a vote of 8-0-5. It now heads to the full Senate for a vote.