State Officials Confirm Montclair Schools At Real Risk of Funding Cuts Thanks to Opt-Out Push From Teacher Unions and Their Proxies in MCAS

On Friday, we wrote about the extraordinarily high opt-out rates in Montclair compared with the rest of the state – which we speculated was likely thanks to a push by MEA members in their classrooms. At the time, we mentioned that advancing this national political agenda on behalf of the teacher unions was potentially coming at the (severe) expense of our district.

These concerns were pooh-poohed by commenters, who suggested that it was an idle threat. Turns out it, it isn’t. According to a new story today, Education Commissioner David Hespe sounds like he’s taking this stuff very seriously, and planning to sanction schools that failed to effectively implement the tests:

Any New Jersey school that fails to have 95 percent of its students take the PARCC exams will be placed on a corrective action plan, and schools with especially high opt-out rates could have state funding withheld, state Education Commissioner David Hespe said Wednesday.

Hespe said in an interview after the Assembly Budget Committee hearing on education that the state is taking PARCC participation rates “very seriously,” even for schools that do not receive federal funding.

“We are going to do whatever is necessary to make sure that we have a comfort level moving forward that we are going to hit that 95 percent,” Hespe said. “This is not a no harm, no foul situation here.”

Despite efforts to pooh pooh these concerns – mostly coming from the unions, according to the report – this is actually a real and legitimate concern:

But opponents of the PARCC tests, including the New Jersey Education Association, have told parents that scenario is unlikely because New Jersey schools have not lost federal funding over test participation before.

However, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said this week that the federal government is obligated to intervene if states don’t respond to high opt-out rates,according to a Chalkbeat report.

The governor – who’s been trying to cozy up to the anti-common core folks as much as possible as he launches his ridiculous but all-too-predictable bid for president – admitted as much as well, noting that these were penalties that were real and likely to be painful for local districts – especially ones like ours:

Christie admonished the crowd of 200 at the Essex County College Public Safety Academy to remember that “the penalties that occur for opting out of testing aren’t just state penalties — they’re federal penalties. … Federal money is connected to that testing.”

More, because of New Jersey’s 2 percent cap on the annual increases of property taxes, the effects of such federal educational funding shortfall will be borne by local schools systems, which could be forced to either reduce services, hike property taxes, or both.

In other words, it’s the law, and we’ve got to follow it if we want to receive the funding. Given the difficult budget debate we just went through, we’d think that the community would be united in trying to protect our school funding. But instead, for some people, it’s all about their narrow national political agenda – not at all about what’s best for our kids here in Montclair. And in fact, in the first article, Montclair High School was the only school mentioned specifically as having missed the 95% target, suggesting that our schools are not at all likely to escape notice on this.

If we lost state aid – $6 million – how many teaching positions would be eliminated and how much would our tax rates go up to soften the blow from losing those millions? We actually know roughly, because that’s roughly the shortfall that we had at one point during the budget debate – it represents between 90 and 120 jobs in our district. And while we don’t think we’d ultimately wind up losing all of that money, this whole situation helps to illustrate an important point: for the MEA / MCAS crowd – as the New York Times reported – this is all about a national political agenda, not about kids here in Montclair:

“But testing, Mr. Lichtenstein said, offers unions a way to join forces both with parents who object to testing and with Republicans who oppose the Common Core standards as a federalization of education.

“It is a powerful issue, by virtue of the fact that the right is also against it,” he said.

Secky Fascione, director of organizing for the National Education Association, the largest nationwide teachers’ union, said reining in testing was the union’s top organizing priority. In the past month, Ms. Fascione said, chapters in 27 states have organized against testing, including holding rallies; petition drives; showings of “Standardized,” a documentary critical of testing; and sessions telling parents they have a right to keep their children from taking tests, as tens of thousands of parents around the country have done.

“Does it give us a platform?” said Karen E. Magee, the president of New York State United Teachers. “Absolutely.”

This is their plan, this is their platform. This is how they’re hoping to build power. And this is why they created MCAS here in Montclair, to serve as their proxy and do their dirty work for them. This campaign is about protecting and building their power – at our schools’ expense.

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