Local officials advocate changes in ed. funding


Staff Writer

SAYREVILLE — Two borough school officials recently attended a conference in Washington, D.C., in an effort to seek more funds for public education.

Sayreville Board of Education member Arthur Rittenhouse last week presented the board with an overview of the National School Boards Association’s Federal Relations Network Conference, held Jan. 30 through Feb. 1.

Almost 900 school board members from around the nation, including 33 people from New Jersey, attended the weekend conference.

Rittenhouse, who attended the meeting along with Sayreville board member Kevin Ciak, said resistance to change is prevalent on the state and federal levels.

“There are Republicans in Washington who are resisting change and Democrats in New Jersey who are resisting change,” he said.

Issues discussed at the three-day conference included the federal No Child Left Behind law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Title I.

Under IDEA, the federal government has committed to funding 40 percent of the cost per pupil for special education, Rittenhouse noted, but in New Jersey the federal government currently provides only 18 percent.

Presentations given during the conference also looked to the local level and stressed the importance of local boards letting the public know what the lack of federal funding means to them.

“The average person does not know or cannot conceive of billions of dollars being spent,” Rittenhouse said. “However, the local person can relate to their taxes going up $138 because the federal government is not meeting their obligation [to] fund public education.”

Also discussed were changes the National School Boards Association would like to see implemented to the No Child Left Behind Act, which President George W. Bush signed into law three years ago.

“The [NSBA] has developed a bill based on presentations, feedback and discussions that we have had with

thousands of school board members,” said Michael Resnick, associate executive director for the NSBA.

The bill, called the “No Child Left Behind Improvements Act of 2005,” Resnick said, is designed to improve accountability by strengthening the accuracy in which No Child Left Behind defines adequate yearly progress. The new law would also improve the alignment between the required sanctions and the educational needs of the individual students and grant the secretary of education greater flexibility to approve better state accountability systems.

Rittenhouse also said that U.S. Congressman Steve Rothman, a Democrat representing New Jersey’s 9th District, held a formal meeting with the New Jersey delegation attending the conference and would be a likely sponsor or co-sponsor for the national board’s proposed legislation.

On the final day of the conference, U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine (D-NJ), a likely candidate for New Jersey governor, also addressed the state delegation. Rittenhouse said the delegation took the opportunity with Corzine to discuss education issues in the state, including the controversial S-1701 law, which went into effect July 1 and prohibits each school district from having more than 3 percent of its total budget in surplus for the 2004-05 school year. The law requires that any surplus funds beyond the cap be immediately used for tax relief.

Rittenhouse said the goal for all school officials who attended the weekend conference was the same, regardless of the economic or other conditions in their communities.

“How do we provide the best education for our children and what can we do to get the federal government to meet its obligation?” he asked. “Education issues in this country seem to be divided and we’re trying to bring that together.”