ASSEMBLY BUDGET COMMITTEE
April 10, 2003
Commissioner William L. Librera
Good morning Chairman Greenwald 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 past
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 these
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 plan.
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
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
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 spending 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 to 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 in grants.
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 current law.
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 University, Piscataway.
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 years.
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.