TRENTON – Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf appeared before the Senate Education Committee Monday, discussing a wide variety of issues, including safety and per-student funding.
On school safety, Cerf said the state is ahead of many states, adding that no major changes were made to policies. He said there are measures in place on how react to incidents like fire bombs, threats, and intrusions.
While there may be other measures recommended in the future on school safety, depending on what Gov. Chris Christie’s recently formed safety task force recommends, Cerf said it’s vital that schools remain “warm and nurturing environments.”
Christie said in December he doesn’t want schools to become “armed camps.”
Sen. Diane Allen, (R-7), of Edgewater, asked if the administration supports having police officers doing walk-throughs in school, like one of them does in her area.
Cerf said that “it’s a highly local issue,” and the decision is ultimately left to the school districts.
He added there are some basic precautions every school district should take, such as sign-in procedures, safety drills and making sure loudspeakers work in every district.
Regarding school funding, Cerf said while money is important in providing a quality education, it ultimately comes down to how the money is being spent.
New Jersey on average spends $17,000 per student, the third highest in the nation, only trailing New York and the District of Columbia, he told lawmakers.
Putting more money in districts already receiving well above that amount, Cerf said, will probably not make much difference.
In Camden, which spends on average $20,000 per student, he pointed out that 23 out of 26 schools there are among the lowest performing in the state. “Is there anyone who really believes that will change the educational outcome,” Cerf said about putting more money toward those schools. “The answer is absolutely clear.”
But Sen. Shirley Turner, (D-15), of Trenton, said money needs to be invested to help at-risk kids in urban districts, many of whom come from environments stricken with poverty, unemployment and single parents.
“We don’t spend money on the front end of life, we’re going to pay for it in the back end of life,” she said. “We’re going to pay now or pay a lot more later.”