TRENTON – Senator Shirley K. Turner today said school officials who obtain taxpayer-funded advance degrees from non-accredited “diploma mills” to pad their salaries and pension benefits are guilty of “educational malpractice.”
“These phony doctors are ripping off taxpayers and being horrible role models for children,” said Senator Turner, Chair of the Senate Education Committee. “It’s nothing less than educational malpractice.”
Senator Turner, D-Mercer, and Senate President Richard J. Codey are co-prime sponsors of S-2127, a bill crafted to crack down on school officials who resort to securing taxpayer-funded advance degrees from non-accredited institutions which often have lax academic requirements.
“It’s a travesty to have top school officials setting such bad examples for students by cheating the system and behaving with such arrogance,” said Senator Turner whose panel approved the bill after hearing lead testimony from Senate President Codey. “Students need better role models than school officials who cheat the system to enrich themselves while bypassing the very educational standards they advocate. Taxpayers also need better guardians of their money.” The bill was approved 4-0 and now goes to the Senate.
The measure, which now awaits action before the full Senate, would restrict tuition reimbursement for school officials to licensed New Jersey institutions or out of state facilities recognized by the federal Department of Education.
To qualify for taxpayer-funded reimbursement, a school official would be required to obtain at least a 3.0 (B) grade in a course where a 4.0 equals an A, Senator Turner said. In addition, the tuition assistance would be limited to the current average cost per credit at Rutgers University.
“We want to encourage our school officials to attend our fine New Jersey institutions,” Senator Turner said.
Prior approval must be obtained from a school superintendent before a school employee could enroll in any course. A superintendent would need prior approval from the local board of education, under the bill. Likewise, any pay augmentation based on the completion of the coursework also would need approval by either the school board or school superintendent.
Payments to the school officials would only be made at the end of the course and after the school district receives proof of the qualifying grade, Senator Turner said.
If any employee leaves the district within one year of the payment of the tuition reimbursement, the school official would be required to return the funds received for the course, according to the bill. In addition, compensation would only be sanctioned for a course or degree “related to the employee’s current or future job responsibilities.”
The legislation was drafted after published reports revealed that several school officials had obtained advance degrees from mail-order facilities with minimal academic requirements before qualifying for higher salaries.
“It’s time to hold school districts accountable for the expenditures they approve,” Senator Turner said.