Op-Ed: The Legislative Importance of Pushing Back Against PARCC

Sarah Blaine | March 20, 2017 | Opinion
The NJ Board of Education’s choice of PARCC as a HS graduation requirement is an overreach by the executive branch that the Legislature must correct

Sarah Blaine
On March 16, the New Jersey Assembly overwhelmingly passed ACR-215, which is a resolution declaring that the state Board of Education’s new regulations requiring students to pass the PARCC Algebra 1 and the 10th grade PARCC English Language Arts tests to graduate from high school are “inconsistent with legislative intent.”

The existing law requires a comprehensive 11th grade test (which these two PARCC tests, neither of which is generally administered in 11th grade, are not). The resolution will not stop New Jersey’s schools from having to offer PARCC each year, but if adopted by the state Senate as well, it is a step toward ensuring that students will not have to pass PARCC to graduate from high school.

With this resolution, the Assembly took the first step in one process by which our New Jersey legislators can check the authority of our governor and his appointees (in this case, the state Board of Education): invalidating regulations that our Legislature determines are “inconsistent with legislative intent.” In English, that means that if the Legislature passes a law, and the executive branch decides to ignore the law and do something different, the Legislature can tell the executive branch: “No, you’re wrong, please go back to the drawing board.” Because this is a check on the executive branch’s authority, the governor’s signature is not required.

As at least 180,000 New Jersey students demonstrated by refusing to take PARCC tests in 2015 and 2016, opposition to PARCC testing is widespread. But leaving the substantive issues surrounding the PARCC test aside, important as they are, ACR-215 and its senate companion resolution, SCR-132, are about governance.  That is, in considering these resolutions, the key question our legislators must decide is whether they are willing to allow Gov. Chris Christie and the Christie-appointed Board of Education to openly ignore New Jersey law.

In the current political climate at both the federal and state level, this is an opportunity for our Legislature to send a clear message to the Christie administration that we are a nation and a state of laws, and that our executive branch cannot and will not be allowed to ignore our state’s laws with impunity.

The checks and balances built into our state constitution were put there for a reason, especially here in New Jersey, where our governor is one of the most powerful in the nation. Neither our governor — nor the state Board of Education he appoints — is tasked with deciding what our laws will be. They are simply tasked with enforcing the laws that already exist.

Members of the New Jersey Assembly and the New Jersey State Senate should not allow regulations that flatly contradict statute to stand unchallenged. As it stands, an unelected board — all of whose members were appointed by Christie — have unilaterally decided to override the law of this state.

Now that ACR-215 has passed the Assembly, Senator Teresa Ruiz, chair of the Senate Education Committee, and New Jersey Senate President Steven Sweeney should quickly list its companion resolution, SCR-132, for a vote. Regardless of Sen. Ruiz’s and President Sweeney’s politics surrounding PARCC, I urge them to list this resolution for immediate consideration.  Again, this is not a question of PARCC politics. This is a question of balance of powers.

Here in New Jersey, the voters have chosen a Republican governor, but the voters have also chosen a Democratic Legislature to balance the power of that governor.  With every seat in the New Jersey Assembly and the New Jersey Senate up for grabs this November, the people of New Jersey are watching to make sure that our legislators are doing their jobs. I urge Senator Ruiz and President Sweeney to demonstrate to the people of this state that our legislators take seriously their responsibility for checking the power of our governor.