New Challenges Await NJ’s Education Chief: Budgets and Teachers!


Cybersecdn Supporters are happy with Gov. Phil Murphy’s choice to lead the state Department of Education. Kevin Dehmer, a former interim commissioner and 15-year veteran of the department, is known for his knowledge of school funds and finances.

For five years, Dehmer was in charge of the department’s money. After a short time at Rutgers, he is going back to work for the agency to replace Angelica Allen-McMillan, who left on January 31 after three years as acting commissioner.

Insiders say it was sometimes hard for department workers to get in touch with Allen-McMillan, but outside K–12 groups say she was easy to reach.

After taking over in 2020, Allen-McMillan almost never talked to the press directly. This was true even though schools made changes that had never been done before and are now being criticized during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as requiring masks, social distancing, and remote learning until the public health emergency ended two years later.

Then there were big drops in K–12 scores and graduation readiness, which were all linked to the pandemic. There were also culture wars in local school boards, which became political issues when the state changed its sex education standards to be more open to new ideas. At a Senate budget committee meeting in 2022, Allen-McMillan gave a powerful defense of these standards.

It was in October 2022 that Dehmer left the department to become the executive head of Rutgers’ Heldrich Center for Workforce Development. Advocates, many of whom used to work for the state and know how skilled and easy to reach he is, are thrilled about his return to the top job.

“Most of us who have worked in New Jersey schools and want to change things for the better know Kevin well,” said Paula White, head of the K–12 watchdog group Jersey Can.

“As the state continues to grapple with how to support all students in meeting basic grade-level standards,” she said in a statement, she was glad for his nomination. She was talking about the effects of the pandemic.

A lack of teachers in the state and ways to fix school funding problems that cause prices to go up because of things like staff shortages, violence and cyber threats, mental health, transportation, making up for lost time at school, and the end of federal COVID relief funds later this year are some of the main issues that supporters hope will get more attention under Dehmer.

Some people say that the Murphy administration has been very slow to deal with the state’s teacher shortage, which is a problem.

New Challenges Await NJ's Education Chief

The biggest teachers’ union in the state, the New Jersey Education Association, praised Dehmer’s selection and said that the lack of teachers was a top priority. The statement said that Dehmer’s “deep understanding” of the Education Department will help him “address the educator shortage crisis in New Jersey.”

Allen-McMillan oversaw getting rid of the Depta, a standards-based test, as a requirement for teacher certification. Murphy signed this into law in 2022, but many rules and procedures that make it harder to hire teachers and get them certified have stayed in place. These have “stayed the same and are very bad for the education community and the 1.4 million students who go to public schools,” according to a report from the New Jersey Association of School Administrators released in January.

Both the NJEA and the New Jersey Public Charter Schools Association support changes that would get rid of the Praxis Core test for people who want to become teachers, lower the grade point average needed to become a teacher from 3 to 2.5 to match New York and Pennsylvania’s standards, and return to a one-year program for people who come into teaching in a different way.

“Working with Mr. Dehmer is going well for us.” “I think it’s a new chance to make progress on issues that affect kids and teachers, especially the lack of teachers,” said Harry Lee, who is in charge of the charter schools group. Some people also think that Dehmer will use his knowledge of school economics to help fix some of the state’s K–12 funding problems.

The head of the New Jersey School Boards Association, Timothy Purnell, said, “Our main goal is to figure out how to pay for our public schools.” “Because government funding is about to run out, we’re not sure how our local school boards will keep these new, creative programs going.

“Many districts are being hit with the budgetary issues having to do with the funding formula and balancing staffing, inflation, transportation and special education costs,” said Purnell. “These are rising costs that could push districts to go above the 2% tax levy, and that is concerning.”

He said that school boards want to pay their teachers, but the state needs to find a way to keep the trust of taxpayers while also paying for schools.

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In February, we should have both the state budget and the K–12 school budget. An advocate for the New Jersey School Boards Association, Jonathan Pushman, said, “It’s great to have someone who can get right to work.” Dehmer will start on February 12. From now until then, Chris Huber will be the acting commissioner. Dehmer will stay on as acting commissioner until the Senate gives its approval.

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