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New Jersey 'Takeover' Plan: Devious or Clear-Cut?

States sometimes protest what they feel to be unwarranted intrusions by the federal government regarding education policy, but haven't always shown the same deference to local governments (and districts) that are even "closer to the people." One of the clearest examples of this dynamic is when states make plans to take over struggling districts, and a situation now unfolding in New Jersey could inspire a heated debate in the Garden State about the proper role of the state education department.

On July 31, the Newark, N.J.-based Education Law Center, a school advocacy group that is no friend of Republican Gov. Chris Christie's administration when it comes to education policy, stated on its website that it had obtained, through a state Open Public Records Act request, a "confidential" New Jersey Department of Education Plan that it says would allow the department to "'turnaround,' take control, and potentially close over 200 public schools over the next three years."

The proposal is contained in a grant request to the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation from February. According to this Aug. 2 story from WNYC, the state said that to call the documents "secret" is itself dishonest since it never attempted to shield them from the public. Specifically, the department said that information in the document-dump from the Education Law Center was included in the state's successful No Child Left Behind Act waiver proposal. At the same time, the state education department said that those documents were also "just proposals," WNYC's Nancy Solomon wrote.

Still, the Education Law Center also published a March 2012 letter from the Broad Foundation to then-Acting Commissioner of Education Christopher D. Cerf (now the state chief), stating that the foundation had given New Jersey a $1.9 million grant based on the February request.

There's a lot to chew on here. An NCLB law waiver application, while public, is not the kind of thing the public reads over a cup of coffee in the morning. And the state does appear to be using Broad money to at least get started on parts of the request. Where will this story go? Stay tuned.

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