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Ruiz & Pou Bill to Better Facilitate School Districts Under State Control Regaining Local Control Advances

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairwoman M. Teresa Ruiz and Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Nellie Pou that would provide a mechanism for school districts to move from state intervention back to local control was approved by the full Senate today.

“For 22 years, parents in Newark had no control over what was happening in their children’s schools,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “We must change the law so that the Commissioner can no longer use their discretion to keep districts under state control for subjective reasons. This bill sets up a clearer process for evaluating schools based on objective data, so no school district is being held under state control arbitrarily.”

“The state recently announced its recommendation to return Paterson schools to local control after 27 years of state control in the district,” said Senator Pou (D-Passaic/Bergen). “While we all understand the state has a role to play in improving our public schools, we want as much local control of it as possible. It is essential that we establish criteria for district evaluation that sets clear standards for autonomy.”

The bill, S-691, would prohibit the Commissioner of Education and the State Board of Education from using any other factor but the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJ QSAC) in determining to withdraw from intervention in an area of school district effectiveness.

NJ QSAC evaluates school districts based upon:

  • Instruction and program
  • Personnel
  • Fiscal management
  • Operations
  • Governance

Under this bill, a district under partial or full state intervention that satisfies 80 percent or more of the quality performance indicators in a particular area would be removed from state control in that area. NJ QSAC was passed in 2015 with the aim of ensuring that all New Jersey schools were operating at a high level of performance. It was intended to simplify the monitoring of school district progress by using one set of standards.

Every three years, each district provides a report to the Department of Education in which it self-assesses its progress in satisfying the quality performance indicators.

Under NJ QSAC a district will be designated as one of the following: a high performing district; a district satisfying 50 percent to 79 percent of the quality performance indicators; a district under partial state intervention; or a district under full state intervention.

Under current law, a school district under full state control reports annually on its progress in complying with the quality performance indicators. Based on this report, but not sooner than three years after the establishment of the district under full state intervention, the Commissioner may recommend that the district be placed under partial state control or designated as a high-performing or moderate-performing district. If the district successfully implements the improvement plan, the Commissioner would recognize the district as a high-performing district and the state would withdraw from intervention.

If the Commissioner cannot recommend that the district under full state intervention be placed under partial state intervention within three years, then the Commissioner would provide a comprehensive report to the state board and to the governor and the Legislature, including a detailed analysis of the causes for the failure of the district to comply with the quality performance indicators and an assessment of the amount of time necessary for the continuation of full state intervention.

Based on that report, the state board would determine whether to keep the district under full state intervention or move the district to partial state intervention.

This bill would create an objective standard for withdrawing state control by relying upon the district’s NJ QSAC score.

The bill was passed by the Senate with a vote of 37-0.