Educational Highlights from Christie’s Budget Address

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Gov. Christie presented his budget yesterday at the Statehouse. The bottom line is a $32.1 billion spending plan, which includes a $108 million increase in higher education and $213 million more for K-12 public schools. The governor did leave a little room in the text of the speech for a few of his hobby horses, and also for a reiteration of his contempt for NJEA’s Vince Giordano’s statement, in defense of the union’s opposition to school choice, that “sometimes life’s not fair.”

From the transcript:

It’s not enough and it’s not appropriate, to simply tell our most challenged urban families, trapped in over 200 failing schools, that “life’s not fair.” That is the expressed attitude of some in the educational establishment in our state. It is not mine. It can no longer be the attitude of this legislature. Our job is to make the future better for every child in a failing school. We cannot simply accept failure or even mediocrity. We must demand excellence.

The opportunity to get a great education should not be a function of the zip code you live in — it should be a hallmark of growing up in New Jersey.

Business administrators across the state are anxiously awaiting final numbers, reassured that state school aid won’t be less than last year, but unsure whether there will be any meaningful increases. The $213 million – which represents a 1.7% increase over last year — won’t be evenly distributed across districts, but instead will be funneled through the School Funding Reform Act formula. From NJ Spotlight:

State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff said a “vast majority of districts will be getting a slight increase.” But the administration also for the first time will be using the state’s funding formula in the distribution of aid, he said. The funding formula ties aid directly to the number of individual students and their needs, meaning students with limited English or low-incomes get additional sums — or for scores of districts, especially those with falling enrollments, a decrease in the money they receive.

(Additional coverage from the Star-Ledger, The Record, Courier Post, and PolitickerNJ.)

Those hobby horses? Back to the transcript:

It is well-known to you that I believe we have work to do to improve our k-12 education system in particular. We have great outcomes in some districts. But we have terrible performance in others.

That is not right, it is not fair and it is not moral.

So I ask you again to pass this year the education reforms I put before you in my State of the State address. We need to reform tenure. We need to pay the best teachers more. We need to expand charter schools in our failing school districts. And we need to give choice and hope to those students and parents now trapped in failing school districts by passing the Opportunity Scholarship Act.

A few notes. The tenure reform proposal Gov. Christie refers to is the tenure reform bill crafted by Sen. Teresa Ruiz, which didn’t make it through the lame duck session of the Legislature but remains the best hope for meaningful changes in archaic tenure laws. Sen. Steve Sweeney has expressed support; much depends on whether the Legislature has the cohones to toss out the NJEA’s tenure reform plan, a far weaker document.

(Sometimes timing is everything, especially when the union’s Executive Director makes a stupid remark that give legislators cover to do a little posturing of their own. The pension/benefits contributions reform bill, which so antagonized public employees, is history now. Giordano’s foot-in-mouth moment provides an opportunity for legislators to be a little bold, which is one reason, I’d guess, for Gov. Christie’s perseveration on the “life’s not fair” bon mot. “Carpe diem,” he’s grumbling to Sen. Sweeney and Speaker Oliver, “do it now!”)

Next, the Governor has been shifting towards a position on charter school expansion that would skirt the opposition in wealthy suburbs and focus on failing urban districts. No surprises there.

Lastly, he made special notice of the Opportunity Scholarship Act (the bill that would provide corporate sponsored scholarships for poor kids in lousy districts to attend private and parochial schools). Consistent with the Giordano-is-clueless theme, he put this bill in the context of what is “right,” “fair,” and “moral.” OSA has undergone many changes since originally proposed about 20 years ago, and is now much trimmed down in districts eligible and students served. Is it slim enough to pass the Legislature? Sometimes timing is everything.

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