Instead of backing away from threats to withhold school aid for districts that fail to have 95 percent of their students take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests, New Jersey Education commissioner David Hespe doubled down Tuesday and repeated a warning to the State Senate Budget Committee.

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"There is a final consequence and that final consequence is going to be something along the lines of losing state aid," Hespe said. "I've been doing this for a long time. I can't remember the last time I said to a district, 'You're not doing what we want you to do. We're going to take your state aid away.' I don't remember ever doing that."

Hespe said taking away state aid is not something that he wants to do, but warned it is a very real possibility. Schools failing hit the participation benchmark will not be abandoned, however.

"We're going to look at the subgroups that are missing the 95 percent," he explained. "How long have they missed the 95 percent? What did the school do to try to encourage participation? We're going to learn a lot from that and we're going to work with the school. We'll develop some type of plan that addresses that moving forward."

NJ Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) told Hespe that she was glad to hear him say on the record that he planned to offer positive reinforcement and try to really understand why students are opting out of the PARCC test.

"I have to be honest. I'm disappointed by what appears to be an almost adversarial position that's been taken by the (Education) Department," said Assembly Education Committee Chairman Pat Diegnan (D-South Plainfield) in a phone interview Monday prior to Hespe's latest testimony. "It was not helpful for the commissioner to threaten withholding aid to towns in which parents decided to opt their kids out."

Federal rules allow the U.S. Dept. of Education to withhold funds if districts fail to have a 95 percent participation rate in standardized tests, like PARCC. New Jersey currently receives over $900 million in federal aid.

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