The relationship between the state teachers’ union and the governor has deteriorated to such an extent that news that both sides agree is good becomes a political spitting contest.
In her latest release New Jersey Education Association Barbara Keshishian accuses Gov. Chris Christie of playing politics with the announcement that New Jersey is a finalist in the federal Race to the Top education grant program.
“Gov. Chris Christie has used what should be good news – New Jersey’s selection as a finalist for $400 million in federal ‘Race to the Top’ funding – to once again attack NJEA and its members,” she said. “It’s a tired act, and it needs to end. This governor – who has cut $1.4 billion from public education, resulting in the layoff of thousands of teachers and deep program cuts that will hurt students badly – now wants to make people believe he’s the champion of public education.”
Christie made the announcement in a release issued early Tuesday that also took a not-so-veiled shot at the teachers union.
“President Obama and Secretary Duncan today recognized our administration’s plan for bold reform of our state’s education system,” the governor said. “This announcement affirms our decision to stick with real reform and not capitulate to the watered-down, failed status quo approach advocated by the NJEA.”
The two sides have battled over the Race to the Top funding since June when Christie slapped down an application that was prepared by the union in conjunction with state Education Commissioner Brett Schundler. At the time, Christie privately eviscerated his education chief while publicly scolding him for making the deal.
The NJEA had objected to Christie’s inclusion of promises for merit pay in the application as well as his push to allow school districts to lay off teachers without consideration of seniority.
“If New Jersey does end up winning a grant, the infusion of resources may help in some small way to offset the deep cuts in school aid enacted by Governor Christie and the Legislature,” Keshishian said. “Those cuts, however, are 14 times the amount of annual funding that the grant would bring.
A spokesman for Christie said the choice of New Jersey as a finalist was in spite of the NJEA, not because of the group.
“So long as NJEA stands opposite a bipartisan, nationwide movement – championed, no less, by a Democratic President – to bring real education reform, the further out of touch with the mainstream they will have exposed themselves to be,” said spokesman Kevin Roberts.