Proposed Legislation Aims to Keep State Aid Separate from PARCC Participation

By Brenda Flanagan

Parents and kids brought plenty of passion — pro and con — to this morning’s debate over PARCC legislation.

“Never once did they come home and say, ‘Mommy, it was so hard! Mommy, I didn’t get it!’ They said, ‘Mommy, I rocked that!’ They were so proud of themselves,” said North Star Academy parent Florisha Johnson.

Students who opted out of taking the controversial achievement test lowered compliance rates in many schools below the 95 percent required by federal law. That could imperil federal funding, but when New Jersey Education Commissioner David Hespe also threatened to withhold state aid to those districts.

“I was astonished. And enough is enough,” said Sen. Nia Gill.

Gill sponsored a bill to bar Hespe from wielding tax dollars like a weapon.

“While we do not have control over the federal government, we can ensure our state funding — the taxes that we send to Trenton, the taxpayers’ money — is not withheld,” Gill said.

Some angry parents wanted a bill to protect children who opt out of the test from retaliation — instead of an unenforceable resolution.

“Why is it toothless? You’re the folks with the authority. Do you mean it or not?” Lawrence Township resident Bill Michaelson asked.

But Senate Education Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz stayed adamant.

“I will not do something that can potentially trigger the federal government from coming into the state of New Jersey, which they have not done in other states but there have been documents written to DOE and letters and to other states of removing funding. Right?” Ruiz said.

Other bills would ban PARCC testing in grades K-2 and require districts and the state to post information about PARCC results and participation levels.

One critic noted the bills “…only add to the volume of mandated bureaucracy experienced at the district level and take away time from vital educational-related tasks,” said Collingswood Board of Education member David Routzahn.

But many parents came to praise, especially from Newark.

“And I understand that sometimes testing is too much, I get all that. But we need to raise the bar. When I see PARCC, I see it as something that can level the playing field, that can give brown and black kids an opportunity to become a part of the American dream,” said North Star Academy parent Charles Love.

“We need to be more engaged. The days of the Department of Education Commissioner in a black box just rolling out whatever they want to do without conferring with the Legislature and getting our authority, that just has to end,” said Sen. Michael Doherty.

The bills that were voted on passed unanimously, but today’s emotional testimony reveals that sharp disagreement continues over PARCC testing across New Jersey’s educational landscape.