SENATE BUDGET and APPROPRIATIONS
April 14, 2003
Commissioner William L.
morning Chairmen Bryant and Littell and members of the committee. It
is a pleasure to be here with you this morning to discuss the Department
of Educations budget for fiscal year 2004.
State aid for local school districts
is the single largest item in the state budget. In recognition of the
very high priority given to education by Governor McGreevey since the
first day he took office, we are including in the FY 2004 budget more
than $8 billion in aid to the states schools. State aid for local
school districts represents one-third of the states budget. This
point must be emphasized -- in finding solutions to the $5 billion budget
deficit for a second year in a row in what remains the severest budget
crisis our state has ever faced -- the Governor has once again refused
to cut a single cent to the districts, holding the line on our childrens
Unlike last year when state aid was held
even, this budget proposes an increase of nearly $200 million in 2004.
Governor McGreevey has made tough choices in this budget by proposing
hard cuts in other areas so that we can continue to invest in New Jerseys
public school children. This budget is a reconfirmation of that commitment.
The proposed budget now before the Legislature
will provide school districts with a nearly $200 million increase in
state education aid --
$97 million toward debt payments for new school construction and $100
million in direct aid to communities for public education. Additionally,
school districts will not have to budget a contribution to PERS. This
represents a $40 million savings. Indirect state aid, pensions and FICA
contributions increase by $204 million.
454 school districts will receive an
increase in state aid. State aid has been held constant for the wealthiest
119 school districts. Abbott districts will receive $50 million of the
$100 million increase in state aid. No school district in our state
will receive fewer dollars in formula aid next year than it did this
While this is admittedly a modest increase,
it is significant given the current fiscal situation, and it reflects
the administrations continued unwavering commitment to education.
In addition, this budget also provides
more than $1.2 billion to all the districts in the state for teachers
retirement benefits and the employers share of Social Security
payments. This amount represents an increase in local aid of $204 million
above FY 2003 and shields local property taxpayers from shouldering
While Governor McGreevey is sensitive
to the fact that some communities may see property taxes rise, he believes
that local communities must make the same hard choices that the state
has made. This state budget reduces spending on state government by
4.4 percent. The previous budget reduced these same costs by 2.5 percent.
Therefore, we think that schools and towns must tighten their belts
and define local priorities carefully in local budgets until we can
all benefit from a turnaround in our national economy.
To ensure that the Department of Education
is functioning most effectively, we have completely reorganized our
operations to be of more assistance to local districts and to better
balance our role of oversight with our role of providing support to
the districts. By making the department a more valuable resource, we
have increased our assistance to local districts in stretching dollars.
Our focus is on improving teaching and learning and on providing the
technical assistance to districts to help them improve both aspects
of the education process.
Our three regional service centers bring
the Trenton decision-makers closer to the districts, which will enable
our county superintendents to provide direct answers to their districts
questions. There are experts in these offices in the areas of Core Curriculum
Content Standards, special education, programs for limited English proficient
students, certification, professional development, and grants, among
In the first year of our administration,
we have created a record of solid accomplishments in many aspects of
education. I would like to briefly highlight a few of our major accomplishments.
A year ago, we consolidated all functions
of the Abbott implementation mandates into one division under Assistant
Commissioner Gordon MacInnes. In order to assess the status of the reform
process that began five years ago, we have required all Abbott districts
to submit to the department by July 15, 2003 a three-year operational
The plan will include an assessment of
the first four years of Abbott implementation, so that useful work will
be preserved. The goal was to simplify the budgeting process for the
2003-04 school year while incorporating the requirements ofthe
federal No Child Left Behind Act, or NCLB. Program staff, fiscal staff,
and Local Support Teams from the department will continue to assist
schools and districts in planning and developing their three-year operational
plans and annual school-based budgets.
Last year we petitioned the New Jersey
Supreme Court for a one-year "time-out" on implementation
of Whole School Reform programs and a waiver to hold state aid the same
as last year in the Abbott districts, as was the case in all of the
other districts. This year, we have petitioned the New Jersey Supreme
Court to grant flexibility in the mandates of the original decisions.
Abbott districts have reached parity with the I and J districts, but
they are still encumbered by old restrictions that limit their ability
to make the most efficient use of their parity dollars. We believe it
is in the best interest of the state and the districts to cut them loose
from some of these restrictions and let them revise their reform practices
in accordance with their three-year plans. We have closed the funding
gap, now the priority is to close the achievement gap.
One of our central initiatives is the
early literacy program. Research is clear that children who read at
or above grade level by the third grade are going to have much greater
success in the rest of their school years than those who cannot read
by grade three. We have made significant progress over the last year
by linking intensive Abbott early literacy programs with Reading First
and all other department literacy efforts, such as the reading coach
program. The coordination of these programs is yielding increased Abbott
preschool enrollment. It also enables us to ask the NJ Supreme Court
to allow the Abbott districts to focus their resources on early literacy
and mastery of the Core Curriculum Content Standards.
The Abbott preschool program is showing
great promise for helping children to have early success in school.
This program can be of critical importance to a child, especially one
who is from an environment that puts him or her at risk of failure.
Our preschool programs integrate educational, social, and family programs
so that the child and the family can help develop the skills and self-esteem
that children need in order to be successful in school and life beyond
In 2001-02 a total of close to 30,000
children were enrolled in the Abbott Preschool programs. Over 9,000
of these were in district-run classrooms and the rest in child care
provider and Head Start classrooms. The actual enrollment as of January
2003 is 36,465 with over 11,000 in district-run classrooms. This is
an increase of 22 percent. For 2003-04, we project an increase of 15.5
percent to 42,135, which represents over 80 percent of the universe
of Abbott-eligible three- and four-year-olds. The percentage of children
served in child care or Head Start centers has remained constant over
the three years at approximately 70 percent.
The FY 2004 Budget provides $142.4 million
in our department and $114.5 million in Human Services to continue the
expansion of Abbott preschool programs. Increased funding of $39 million
over the projected fiscal 2003 actual spending amount will accommodate
an increase from the 2002 enrollment.
In support of the reading coach literacy
initiative, we have proposed an appropriation of $9 million as the second
installment of a four-year, $40 million commitment by Governor McGreevey
to the program. Last summer, the department trained 30 reading coaches
who have been working with teachers and students in 80 schools. We will
expand this corps of coaches for the next school year. State literacy
resources will be supplemented by approximately $20 million in aid for
the new federal Reading First program which has the same goal as the
state programs. We already have evidence that early literacy programs
are succeeding in high poverty areas.
There are other department literacy initiatives
that provide reinforcement for our belief that early literacy is the
key to success in school and beyond. We have strengthened our language
arts literacy standards to be much more specific in the early grades
to assure that students are learning all of the necessary skills. In
addition, there are over 60,000 students and 1500 teachers participating
in the Governors Book Club to encourage students to read for fun.
For some time now, "accountability"
has been the watchword. You have demanded that we be more accountable,
and the general public agrees. We have responded with programs such
as the report card and the comparative funding guide. The NCLB significantly
increases the stakes by tying federal dollars to accountability measures.
To meet these increasing responsibilities, the department has relied
for too long on multiple reports and cumbersome processes. In order
to help the state meet these requirements and more New
Jersey must join other states by developing a comprehensive system to
track student achievement, mobility, and other critical information.
I therefore urge that you approve our $1.5 million request to initiate
a student-level database called NJ SMART to be tested this fall. I should
also note that we anticipate that federal funds will be available for
this project as well.
In addition, federal mandates and revenues
are very important in assisting the state with leveraging resources
for improving teaching and learning. Based upon current federal figures,
the FY 2004 budget includes a $52.2 million or 11.7 percent --
increase in grants from the No Child Left Behind Act that is in effect.
Programs with significant increases include Title I grants of $33.1
million an increase of 12.9 percent -- and special education
grants of $40.0 million, or an increase of 16.4 percent. The Improving
Teacher Quality program will total $66.8 million for the state.
To assist with the development and implementation
of the new testing requirements, the state will receive $9.2 million,
a slight increase over the amount received in FY 2003. The testing requirements
are an important measure of accountability for the increased federal
The state will be in compliance this
year with the assessment mandates imposed by the federal No Child Left
Behind legislation. We have contracted with the Education Testing Service
for NJ ASK 3 and NJ ASK 4 to be administered in May of this year. In
succeeding years, we will add the other required tests in accordance
with the federal time schedule. We also have received permission from
the federal government to create the new fourth-grade test by incorporating
enough of the items from the old Elementary School Proficiency Assessment
to make the old and the new tests comparable. This will save the state
the time and expense of having to administer the ESPA again this year
along with a new fourth-grade test.
Also in accordance with the federal requirements,
statewide testing in reading and mathematics in grades 3-8 must be in
place by 2005-06 and requires expansion of the Alternate Proficiency
Assessment (APA) for students with disabilities, consistent with the
expansion of statewide testing. We must also factor in costs to produce
Braille, large-print, and translated versions of the assessments.
We currently have launched another pilot
project funded by a targeted grant of $750,000 to create performance-based
tests to use in conjunction with our standardized assessments. This
is being done in partnership with CREATE, the Coalition for Responsible
Educational Assessment, Testing, and Evaluation, and the Business Coalition
for Educational Excellence which are investing an additional $500,000
in supplemental funds and in-kind support.
Another important factor that will be
incorporated into the new assessment program will be the revised Core
Curriculum Content Standards. The standards are undergoing their first
mandated five-year review. The State Board of Education has adopted
the revised standards in language arts literacy, mathematics, and science
and will soon adopt the revisions to the other areas of the standards.
The new assessments will be aligned with the new provisions, and the
existing eighth- and eleventh-grade tests have already been realigned
to meet the revised standards in the areas that have been adopted.
Another priority of this administration
is to make quality professional development opportunities available
to teachers. Because teachers are the front line of educational delivery,
we must provide resources to enhance the districts efforts. This
budget includes$2million forteacher mentoring
aid. Mentoring has been shown through research to be a very successful
strategy in developing and keeping good teachers in the classroom. According
to national statistics, approximately 40 percent of teachers leave teaching
within the first five years. This attrition rate is unacceptably high
and we are working to reduce it.
In our state efforts to assure that all
classrooms are headed by highly qualified teachers, we have two initiatives
totaling $850,000. Using the recommended $500,000, we will develop a
summer institute to assist both new and experienced teachers master
new techniques and enhance their subject matter knowledge. Another way
of encouraging teachers is to provide incentives to attain national
accreditation. The national certification process is rigorous and demanding,
requiring teachers to complete a series of assignments tailored to the
developmental level of their students. To offset the costs to the teachers
of applying for accreditation, the Governor has recommended $350,000
The teacher shortage also is an issue
that we take seriously, and we will continue to help districts through
our Web site database NJHIRE. Two years ago, the state provided incentives
for preschool teachers in the special needs districts. This years
budget provides $619,000 to continue the commitment made to those teachers.
Within the department, we know that we
must move our backlog of certification requests much faster. We are
in the process of creating a technology-based system to speed up the
processing of applications so that we can get new teachers into our
classrooms as quickly as possible.
I have listened with Governor McGreevey
to the teachers of this state in a series of teacher town hall meetings
over the last year. The input is extremely valuable for helping us fine-tune
our professional development initiatives and improve conditions for
teachers in classrooms, so that they can be as effective as possible
in raising student achievement. We have found some of the most effective
educational support can come through professional networks that do not
require expenditures of state funds.
One of the departments recent initiatives
is the Network of Schools, a Web-based service that will help districts
share good ideas and effective practices in the areas of special education
reform, overcoming achievement deficits and implementing small schools
In our professional development efforts,
the bottom line is to raise student achievement. Teachers not only must
feel supported, they must also be effective educators.
I have been a proponent of public school
choice throughout my career in education. The Department of Education
is committed to preserving a viable public school choice program in
this state, but there are some changes that must be considered in the
In the meantime, this budget has proposed
that we appropriate $2.8 million in increased funding for the public
school choice program for added expenses related to enrollment growth
in choice schools. Our charter schools and school choice programs currently
provide an option for over 13,000 students and their parents.Charter
Schools received facilities money from the federal School Renovation
Another of our state initiatives is the
creation of diverse and multiple paths to student achievement. Our program
of creating career academies is one way to encourage the collaboration
of the education and business communities.
We have been pleased that some corporations
have helped the state create career academies under a leadership team
at Prosperity New Jersey. These academies are collaborative efforts
among high schools, colleges, and business partners. They are modeled
after a variety of existing academies. The first corporation to announce
its commitment to the new program was Pfizer with a contribution of
$500,000 to help start an academy at Morristown High School and provide
expertise in science and health to both teachers and students. In addition,
we have launched an engineering program in Trenton with the participation
of PSE&G and Mercer County Community College. The most recent career
partnership is Cherry Hill Academy for Studies and Experiences sponsored
by Commerce Bank in conjunction with Cherry Hill School District and
Drexel University, Rutgers, and Camden County Community College to create
a business program that will be available to more than 3,600 students
in the two high schools.
This year the department was awarded
a four-year grant for approximately $2 million from the U.S. Department
of Education under the Partnerships in Character Education grant program,
Title V, Part D of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. New Jersey
is one of only five states to receive an award.
As part of this grant, the department
recently announced the establishment of the New Jersey Center for Character
Education (NJCCE) to be housed at the Center for Applied Psychology
in the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, Rutgers
With Legislative support, New Jersey
is already leading the nation in its commitment to provide support for
the development of character education in public schools through the
New Jersey Character Education Partnership initiative, which has provided
$14 million in state aid funding to school districts over the past three
Providing safe schools has become a topic
of much greater intensity in light of several dramatic events in the
last few years. Within schools, safety is often jeopardized by individuals
who do not know how to control anger and who do not feel positive about
their education and classmates. There has been a break-down in many
of the values that used to make our communities and schools safe. There
is a $4.8 million dollar appropriation in the budget to continue to
fund Character Education programs.
One of the biggest problems we confronted
upon taking office last year was to move the projects under the school
construction program to completion.In order to coordinate the
activities of the many agencies involved in the approval process, Governor
McGreevey created the New Jersey Schools Construction Corporation, a
subsidiary of the Economic Development Authority. The school construction
program gives all school districts an increased percentage of state
support for eligible project costs.
From the inception of the program through
December of 2002, 145 of the 239 districts that would have received
no state funding under the prior law have submitted one or more school
construction projects and been approved to receive almost $550 million
in state support from debt service aid or grants. This represents 45
percent of the total $1.2 billion in approvals.
As the Governor has said repeatedly,
this was not the budget he wanted to submit, but we are confident that
this budget will enable districts to weather the year with some belt
tightening, creative solutions, innovative programs, and cooperative
agreements. We will do whatever we can to provide districts with the
resources of our department and generate funding sources for programs
outside of the department. Even in this tight budget climate, the state
and the school districts have created new programs, launched new initiatives,
passed referenda, renovated buildings, and generally moved ahead this
My staff and I look forward to working
with the Legislature on some mutual concerns. Now I will be happy to
answer any questions you have.