Tuesday evening incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy and challenger Jack Ciattarelii duked it out at Rowan University at Glassboro for their second and final debate before the election in three weeks. Here are the education-related moments during the boisterous debate, which included highlights like Ciattarelli congratulating Murphy on “your Red Sox” beating “my Yankees” (Murphy grew up in Massachusetts), Murphy mentioning Ciattarelli’s attendance at a “Stop the Steal” rally, the crowd jeering so loudly (at both candidates) that Murphy said “a debate has broken out at a hockey game,” Murphy promising (in an odd steal from late President Reagan) that it was “morning in New Jersey,” and Ciattarelli countering that “New Jersey is broken.”
Ciattarelli Attacks Murphy for His Charter School Moratorium: While Murphy’s Education Department approved a charter school last week, it was the first new authorization in his three and a half years in office. Ciattarelli accused the Murphy Administration of paying “lip service” to the Black community, citing the Governor’s resistance to approving charter expansions, as well as new charters, in Newark where they’re hugely popular among Black residents.
In a related matter (as New Jersey, as well as the rest of America roils over the reality of systemic racism), Murphy dinged Ciattarelli for not being explicit about white privilege. Cittarelli, who has swaying moderate in the final weeks, replied, “Have whites had access to things that people of color have not? Yes, that’s a sad fact. Has the Black race been disadvantaged and marginalized? Yes, that’s a sad fact. … And we need to address it.”
“And I believe that I’m addressing it by going into the Black communities with the plan I put forth on my website,“ he added. “It’s very specific with regards to economic development, access to health care, solving the food desert program, and working with faith-based organizations.”
Murphy Attacks Ciattarelli for His School Funding Proposal: As readers know, Ciattarelli has proposed to “flatten out” state allocations to local school districts. Last night he said he would institute a “flatter, more equitable distribution of state aid to schools” in an effort to cut property taxes (“I will tell you that state government is bloated, inefficient, and corrupted by special interests”) and his formula would not take money away from poor districts and give it to rich districts. He claimed (correctly) that the owner of a million-dollar home in Jersey City is paying less in property taxes than someone who owns a $400,000 home in Toms River.
Murphy tried to corner him: “If you’re in a Black or Brown community or if you’re a Black or Brown kid out there, you’re going to get the rug pulled out from under you,” he said. “This is an ‘us versus them’ move, there’s enormous progress being made in black and brown communities where there’s a lot of money being put to work.”
Murphy boasted that his administration has increased funding for public schools and recently made a $6.4 billion payment to the state‘s traditionally under-funded public-worker pension system. Ciattarelli responded, “the budget’s up by $11 billion. People don’t want a handout, they want a hand-up.”
Murphy Gets Question on School Segregation: Last April the Murphy Administration surprised some folks by countering a lawsuit pressed by Education Law Center, NJEA, and Rutgers Professor Bruce Baker, which calls for the government to immediately apply remedies to our state school system’s deep segregation, including school district consolidation, halting all expansions of charter school, and busing kids within counties. When asked why he is fighting against his allies, Murphy said it was “a technicality” and the Attorney General is obliged to mount a defense.
Ciattarelli said, “I find some of the words of the governor hollow.”
Currently Murphy leads Ciattarelli, according to polls, by somewhere between 9-13 points. The consensus of state pundits is this debate didn’t change anything.