February 25, 2015

Can Christie, Legislature Defuse Judge’s $1.6 Billion Pension Bombshell?

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Double challenge confronts Dems, GOP: Find funds in current budget — and even more in next year’s

The can has been kicked down the road as far as it can go.

Monday’s court ruling that Gov. Chris Christie and the Legislature need to come up with nearly $1.6 billion for the public-employee pension system by the end of June is going to turn a tough budget season into a nightmare.

The ruling effectively means — unless a promised appeal by Christie is successful — that Trenton will have to make significant spending cuts with just months left in the state’s fiscal year. Or it will have to find ways to generate new revenue after previous budget shortfalls have already used up most one-shot fixes like delaying property-tax relief payments.

It also means that the Republicans and Democrats will have to hammer out a way to work together, no small feat given what appear to be insurmountable differences.… Read the rest

February 25, 2015

Dispute Erupts Over ‘Agreement’ Between Teachers Union, Governor

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While Christie touts purported deal, NJEA leaders protest that it’s just a ‘road map’ for finding solution to pension crisis

To describe the relationship between Gov. Chris Christie and the New Jersey Education Association over the last five years as tumultuous is probably an understatement.

But yesterday it took a turn toward the bizarre, as Christie, in an otherwise uneventful budget address, trumpeted what he called an historic agreement with the teachers union over paying off New Jersey’s massive pension liability – leaving a stunned and suddenly besieged NJEA leader saying, “Whoa, not so fast.”

“To be clear, we never sat down with the governor on this,” said Wendell Steinhauer, president for the 200,000-member union who yesterday became the second most sought-after individual in the Statehouse.

At issue was a broad plan that the NJEA did, in fact, sign a week ago with the state’s Pension and Benefit Study Commission.

Read the rest
February 24, 2015

Christie Decries Pension Ruling As ‘Liberal Judicial Activism’

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TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie today lashed out against a state judge who ruled the governor violated the contractual rights of public workers by cutting $1.57 billion from pension payments in New Jersey’s current budget.

The governor’s office decried the ruling of Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson as “liberal judicial activism” in a statement after she ruled against the administration. Christie will appeal the ruling to a higher court.

Jacobson ordered Christie and lawmakers to put more money into pension funds.

“Once again liberal judicial activism rears its head with the court trying to replace its own judgment for the judgment of the people who were elected to make these decisions,” Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said in a statement.

“This budget was passed by the legislature and signed by the governor with a pension payment,” he said.… Read the rest

February 24, 2015

Christie Broke Law By Cutting Pension Payments, Judge Rules

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TRENTON — In a significant blow to Gov. Chris Christie, a judge ruled today that the governor broke a law he signed by cutting $1.57 billion from a pension payment this year, and must now work with state lawmakers to restore the money.

The decision could blow a massive hole in the current state budget, sending the Republican governor and the Democratic-controlled state Legislature scrambling to come up with the funds by June 30, when the fiscal year ends.

State Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald said today he doesn’t know where they would find they money in this year’s $32.5 billion budget and warned it would take “draconian” cuts to accomplish.

“The impact on programs at the end of the year would be devastating,” Greenwald (D-Camden) said.

The ruling comes as Christie, a potential 2016 presidential hopeful, prepares to deliver his sixth budget proposal Tuesday afternoon for the fiscal year that begins July 1.… Read the rest

February 15, 2015

Assembly Ed Committee Hears Test Reform Bills

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NJEA supports parent rights, high-stakes moratorium

NJEA Vice President Marie Blistan testifies before the Assembly Education Committee in favor of three bills designed to slow down New Jersey’s headlong rush into high-stakes testing.
NJEA Vice President Marie Blistan joined other educators, parents and other child advocates today to testify in favor of three bills designed to slow down New Jersey’s headlong rush into high-stakes testing.

With the March launch of the controversial PARCC exams approaching, parents across the state have begun to fight back by refusing to allow their children to take the exam. While many districts have adopted commonsense policies to accommodate test-refusing students, others have insisted that parents have no opt-out rights and that students will be forced to “sit and stare” and possibly face disciplinary consequences. As more families opt-out, and face very different responses from different districts, pressure has been building for legislators to act.… Read the rest

February 15, 2015

It’s Crunch Time For Deciding On PARCC Test Opt-Outs And Implementation Delays

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As grassroots opposition to new testing grows, NJ lawmakers worry about possible loss of federal funds

Amid the rhetoric and emotion over the new PARCC tests, the logistical questions came quickly yesterday as the Assembly starting weighing new bills to slow down the full implementation of the tests and devise a statewide policy for families who refuse to have their children take the exams.

Would such delays – if not defiance — put the state in violation of state and federal laws? And would it cost the state and districts an estimated $330 million in federal funding, largely earmarked for low-income students?

The answers may not be easy to come by, as the federal government’s positions on states and families pulling back from the new testing have become something of a moving target of late.

Over the last two years, as implementation has gotten ever closer and controversy has grown, the Obama administration has been tough on some states that haven’t lived up to their commitments in terms of the new testing.… Read the rest

February 5, 2015

N.J. Wants To Adopt More Rigorous Standards For Teacher Candidates

TRENTON —Becoming a teacher in New Jersey would require additional training time for student teachers and higher standards for substitutes under revised rules proposed today by the state Department of Education.

The update to state policy would affect future students pursuing a teaching degree through a traditional four-year college progam as well as future substitutes teachers and those transitioning into teaching through alternative routes, like Teach for America or other programs.

“We need to make sure the next generation, the next 150,000 teachers in New Jersey are prepared,” Assistant Education Commissioner Peter Shulman said after presenting the proposed changes. “By simply thinking about preparing them in a similar manner that we have prepared them before, I don’t think we are advancing the conversation.”

Shulman noted several times during his presentation that current requirements are not strong enough, making it too easy to get into a New Jersey classroom, especially for substitutes and out-of-state teachers.… Read the rest

January 23, 2015

Frustrated by PARCC? Tired of over-testing?

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It’s time to do something about it!

Colleen Daly Martinez

Colleen Daly Martinez of Montclair speaks to a reporter following her testimony at the January State Board of Education meeting.

The Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments in New Jersey just announced it will be holding three public testimony sessions next week.

They’ve heard plenty from the usual group of education policy wonks. Now it’s time for them to hear from the people who really know what’s happening in classrooms across New Jersey.

This is your chance, but time is short!

To testify you must pre-register online at or call 609-984-6024. Please bring 10 copies of your testimony so it can be shared with all Study Commission members.

If none of the scheduled sessions are convenient for you, please write the commission to request that they schedule additional hearings at more convenient times and locations.… Read the rest

January 16, 2015

State Contends In Court That Christie’s 2011 Pension Reform Is Unconstitutional

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Lawyers enter ironic argument while asking judge to dismiss union lawsuit that state must fully fund public employee retirement funds

In what is an ironic turn of events for the Christie administration, the state is contending in Superior Court that legislation considered the governor’s signature achievement — the 2011 pension reform law — may be barred by the state constitution and might itself be illegal.

The argument presented in court Thursday is that New Jersey’s constitution bars legislators from approving large financial liabilities without specific approval by voters, and that they cannot force future lawmakers to spend money.

Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson is presiding over the lawsuit lodged by pension fund trustees fighting Gov. Chris Christie’s decision last spring to cut $2.4 billion in mandated pension contributions over two years.

The daylong hearing concluded without a ruling.

Read the rest
January 15, 2015

Chris Christie’s Jersey Nightmare: Why His State Hasn’t Touched The Economic Recovery

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Why do half of his state’s residents want to leave? Strip away his antics, and there’s a devastating economic story.

Late in October of 2009, New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie used the Ridgewood Moving Company in Mahwah to stage a campaign event headlined by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The cavernous warehouse was packed floor to ceiling with shrink wrapped pallets holding the possessions of dozens of families leaving New Jersey. It vividly symbolized the thousands of Jersey households that made the same decision that year to pull up stakes in hopes of a brighter future anywhere else.

The site was a compelling backdrop for Christie’s core campaign message. He was the candidate most likely to staunch the trend that had become so pronounced since the state’s congressional delegation shrank from 15 seats in the ’70s to 12.… Read the rest

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