John Mooney | April 4, 2017 | Education
State accountability system gets a fresh look, while old topics get last hearing

Date: Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Time: 10 a.m.

Where: New Jersey Department of Education, 1st-floor conference room, 100 River View Plaza, Trenton

Key votes: The State Board of Education will have its first discussion of new regulations concerning the state’s oft-discussed school monitoring system — known as the Quality School Accountability Continuum, or QSAC. The system sets the benchmarks required of every district and is a critical piece in determining the state’s intervention in schools. In addition, the board will hear what is likely to be the last public testimony regarding controversial proposals for deregulating charter schools and for stricter regulation of private special education schools. The board will also take up a rare request for emergency financial relief, this time for the little-known Educational Information and Resource Center, a state agency that provides broadband and other technology support to districts.

Board membership still unresolved: Gov. Chris Christie this winter appointed a half-dozen new members to the State Board, including replacements for its president and vice president. But the state Senate has yet to consider the appointments and no dates have been posted for even a committee hearing. That leaves the board’s current membership and leadership in place, at least for now.

QSAC revisited: The state monitoring system known as QSAC has been a source of controversy since practically the date of its enactment, with questions raised about what it requires and at what levels. Under QSAC, districts must meet certain percentages of scores of benchmarks around five key areas: instruction, governance, finance, personnel, and operations. If they fall below 80 percent in each category, districts must file corrective plans or face potential state interventions. The state board is taking the first steps to revising the system, beginning discussions that would more closely align it with the array of other accountability measures also in place. Among them are new rules coming under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and also the state’s School Performance Reports that will be released this week.

Emergency relief: The State Board will take up a rare request for emergency relief to an educational agency, this time a request for $3.3 million to the Education Information and Resources Center. The EIRC provides support for Internet broadband to a limited number of South Jersey districts, as well as 911 services.

Public testimony: The board will take public testimony on a few controversial items. Chief among them are two items that are all but final: new regulations that would loosen the reins on charter schools and separate ones to tighten the rules on private special education schools. Both proposals have won preliminary approval by the State Board and are all but assured of final approval once the public testimony is completed. In addition, the board will also hear new proposal to adjust the state’s learning standards to include “social and emotional competencies” for students.