Pugnacious and boastful, bullying and bombastic, arrogant and contentious: these are some of the mainstream media descriptions of Gov. Christie’s performance yesterday afternoon during his Statehouse budget address. (Transcript here.) Not so much. With Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as a convenient foil, Christie’s fiscal roadmap, at least in regards to education, comes across as practically pacifist. $250 million increase in local school aid. No cuts to Abbott preschool programs. No strictures on collective bargaining for public employee unions. School board members and administrators are in a fever of disbelief, even as they wait to get solid numbers: how’d we get so lucky?
Other educational references during the address included expanding the authorizing agencies of charter schools from one (the DOE) to 31 (all NJ’s public colleges and universities), increasing state aid to charter schools, and doubling the budget for the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program.
Now, a cynic might argue that the public school aid increase and the decision to maintain preschools (despite pleas from the GOP leadership) is merely a strategic sop to the State Supreme Court, which is currently pondering the constitutionality of last year’s substantial cuts to poor districts. (If the Court finds in favor of Education Law Center’s argument, then that money might end up in the pockets of the Abbott districts, inciting outrage from gipped suburbanites.) Also, as NJ Spotlight points out, the flat allocation to the State DOE leaves one wondering how exactly we’re going to upgrade our data systems to sustain the promised reforms that would link student growth to teacher performance.
Despite the adjectival agility displayed by today’s press, Chris Christie looks like a piker compared to the acrobatics in Wisconsin and Ohio, which are currently pressing for ending collective bargaining among public employees. If those states’ governors are the radical fringe element, we’re positively middle-of-the-road.
Meanwhile, NJEA’s leaders (along with the AFL-CIO) are urging school teachers to play hooky on Friday and come to a rally in Trenton from 11:30-1:30 to “show that we stand strong for collective bargaining rights in New Jersey.” What’s wrong with rallying at 4:00 when school is out? Why not the weekend? Jeesh. This isn’t Wisconsin.