NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer released the following statement regarding Gov. Christie’s State of the State proposals on the length of the school day and school year:
“I welcome the opportunity to sit down with Gov. Christie and the Department of Education to discuss the benefits and challenges of implementing an extended school day and school year. That discussion must include educators and parents as well, to ensure that all concerns are taken into account and it should be based on research and evidence.
Why a veto of full-day kindergarten study?
“I also challenge Gov. Christie to demonstrate the sincerity of his proposal by renouncing yesterday’s veto of a bill creating a task force to study issues associated with implementing full-day kindergarten across New Jersey. Full-day kindergarten, in districts where it does not already exist, would immediately double the length of the school day for tens of thousands of young students at a critical time in their development. The benefits of full-day kindergarten are clear and well-documented. NJEA has consistently supported full-day kindergarten and urges its implementation statewide.
30,000 children eligible for expanded preschool
“I also invite Gov. Christie to begin working with us to ensure access to full-day preschool for more New Jersey children. Under the school funding formula, preschool should be available to at least 30,000 more students across the state. Research on the benefits of early childhood education is unambiguous and the benefits are significant. Unfortunately, Gov. Christie has consistently refused to invest the resources needed to provide the opportunities for children that the law calls for. NJEA has consistently supported full-day preschool.
Aid formula already underfunded by $5 billion
“I also invite the governor to have a serious conversation about the resources needed to lengthen the school day and year. Gov. Christie has already underfunded New Jersey’s school funding formula by $5.1 billion in his first term. Districts must be confident that the state is willing and able to support what they are already doing before they are asked to expand their offerings. NJEA has consistently called for full funding of the school funding law to ensure that our students have every possible opportunity to learn and succeed.
Facilities need air conditioning, repair
“Additionally, an expanded school year would put significant pressure on districts to upgrade facilities. Currently, far too many school buildings have no air conditioning. That already creates a challenging and often dangerous environment for students and school staff. Expanding the school year into the summer would greatly exacerbate that problem and require immediate action to ensure that every student has a safe, healthy environment that is conducive to learning. Unfortunately, over the last four years, Gov. Christie has refused to release funds through the Schools Development Authority to allow dozens of districts to make critical health and safety improvements in buildings. NJEA has consistently supported measures to ensure that all classrooms are maintained at safe temperatures and with safe conditions.
Local negotiations are central to the discussion
“Ultimately, these are decisions that must be discussed and determined at the local district level. As Gov. Christie wrote in his veto of the full-day kindergarten task force bill, ‘the decision of whether to offer a full-day program should reside with local boards of education and their constituents.’ It is equally true that those boards and those constituents, including parents and educators, should have the final say on the length of their school day and school year. New Jersey has a well-established collective bargaining system that provides the legal process by which districts can implement such changes once they are agreed upon. NJEA has consistently supported the use of collective bargaining to help make such important educational decisions.
“Several districts across New Jersey have already negotiated longer school days and school year for students. Other districts have negotiated longer school years for staff to ensure more time for professional learning. We should look closely at the experience in those districts to learn whether such increases in instructional time enhance students’ learning and well-being.
More time – or better use of time?
“The welfare of students must be carefully considered. Before any changes are implemented, we must ensure that they are truly in the best interests of students and not simply politically expedient. Many high school students are already on buses before 7:00 in the morning. If they participate in sports or other after-school activities, they may return home after 6:00 and still have several hours of homework. We need to determine whether a longer school day is in their best interests. Many students of all ages are spending far too much class time preparing for high stakes standardized tests, rather than engaging in real learning. They may not need a longer school day but rather better use of the instructional time already available.
“Students in New Jersey face many challenges, and many factors affect their academic success. We welcome a comprehensive discussion with all stakeholders about how best to provide the education they need and deserve.”