Gov. Thomas H. Kean on Wednesday signed a bill giving New Jersey broad powers to take over school districts deemed failures at educating children.
"This is a historic day for New Jersey and, most important, a day of hope for thousands of our children who have been left out for a long, long time," Kean said. "When schools fail, it's adults who failed, and adults should pay the price."
The law gives New Jersey the power to move into a district that has failed at three attempts to make improvements. The state will be able to fire administrators and the local board of education, and appoint a state superintendent to operate the district for five years.
Kean and other officials said they hope the prospect of a state takeover will spur improvements in districts rife with incompetence or patronage.
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Nevertheless, a recommendation is expected within a month that the state take over inner-city schools in Jersey City. Nine other troubled districts in the final stage of state monitoring also could be subject to a takeover if they fail to make improvements.
Critics of the proposal have said it unfairly targets poorer urban districts that are under-funded and confront insurmountable social problems.
The New Jersey measure nearly fell victim to a dispute over whether troubled school districts should receive additional state aid as they try to avoid a takeover. Under a compromise, targeted districts can draw state aid faster than normal to help pay for improvements.
Jean McDonald, a researcher for the National Governors Assn., said Kentucky, South Carolina, Texas and New Mexico have laws of varying strength allowing state takeovers of failing school districts.