NJ Democrats are piling onto Chris Christie, assailing him for “recent missteps, which have called into question his commitment to education.” Here’s some of the Democratic members of the Assembly Education Committee right before Christie delivered a fire and brimstone speech at the Foundation for Excellence in Education meeting:
Chair Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr.: “From day one he has created a war with teachers and administrators, taken away nearly a billion dollars in aid to schools while raiding them of their surplus funds, and botched numerous applications to secure federal funding that would have helped offset these losses. Now he is headed to Washington to talk about excellence in education. If he has a secret plan to achieve this, then by all means, he should be sharing it with the legislature so we can work together to institute it.”
Joan Voss: “Without an Education Commissioner or a Secretary of Higher Education, New Jersey is lacking the leadership necessary to achieve excellence in this area,” Perhaps the Governor should cancel his trip to Washington and spend more time [filling these slots].”
Ralph Caputo: “One can only imagine that if the Governor is speaking on excellence in education, he will have to point to his first year in office as an example of what not to do.”
Mila M. Jasey: “I can’t imagine how the Governor’s imprudent approach to our children’s future qualifies him to speak at a national forum on excellence in education.”
Here’s a better idea. Instead of playing “who’s your Daddy” with the Governor over sound bites and harping on the $400 million lost in Race To The Top and the $14 million lost in Federal aid for charter schools, let’s look at costs in context.
New Jersey’s annual public school costs are about $20 billion. (That’s about 1.38 million kids at a cost per pupil of $13,835 and represents total costs to local taxpayers, inclusive of state and federal contributions.) Our loss of RTTT money and federal aid to charter school expansion (obviously a Democratic pet issue) is approximately 2%, or less than half the tab of running Newark’s public schools for one year. Now while that money is nothing to sneeze at, the geyser of mucus erupting from the Assembly Ed Committee would be better expended on our core educational issues: intractable achievement gaps, unsustainable infrastructure, lack of accountability, a hobbled DOE.
Yeah, we screwed up in losing that money. But Federal aid won’t fix our schools. That’s going to take collaboration on the parts of our tripping-the-light-fantastic-governor and resentful legislative leaders. Can we focus on issues of substance instead of crafting cheap shots?
Last night during his speech Christie reminded the audience that teachers who want to opt out of NJEA have to pay a fee of 85% of their $730 annual dues. He quipped, “Now, for people in my generation…this is like the Hotel California. You can check out anytime you like, but you may never leave.”