At a town hall meeting in affluent Bergen County last Thursday, where many of the state’s most plundered taxpayers live, Governor Christie did what he does best, speak bluntly and interact seamlessly—according to press reports–with the public. Although I did not attend the town hall meeting, the governor made one remark about education that can be interpreted several ways. I will interpret it the way I think the governor and others that have made similar remarks about public education.
In discussing public education reforms, Governor Christie said, ” You’ve got to decide which side you’re on. There are no neutral parties in this one, because this is our kids’ future (emphasis added).”
Did the governor mean literally that all New Jersey’s children are everyone’s responsibility? On the other hand, did he mean that all couples or single parents should be concerned about their under performing students in public schools, whether they are being taught in the suburbs or in the Abbott districts?
Awhile ago another so-called conservative Morris County Republican legislator made a statement in support of the Abbott district spending, namely, that “these are our children” who have to be educated. No doubt. Children have to be educated. But by whom and who pays for education?
Why does the discussion about education always include a statement about “our children?” For conservatives who talk on endlessly about “family values,” should they not be asserting that parents are responsible for raising their children? Does that not mean that it is irresponsible to bring a child into the world without having the financial resources to raise a child, especially paying for their education? In short, does not Personal Social Responsibility demand that couples think twice before procreating?
However, in our culture of “doing your own thing” and not being held accountable for your actions, especially when it comes to sexual activity, serious consequences in America’s cities have resulted from promiscuous behavior–a permanent “underclass” of dependent young women with one or more out of wedlock children.
This is the real third rail of American politics and culture that white politicians dare not touch without being “burned.” If Governor Christie wants to tackle the “big issues,” he should start by having a dialogue about what it means to be a socially responsible individual in our society.
The collectivist assertions made by both liberals and supposedly fiscal and social conservatives are at the heart of the education funding controversy in New Jersey, and will not be resolved until the state Supreme Court no longer has the power to order the governor and the Legislature to fund public schools according to its misinterpretation of the state constitution.
In the final analysis, does Governor Christie believe that all taxpayers are responsible for educating all youngsters in the state? If so, he will not be able to make the changes in education that are necessary to reduce the burden on suburban taxpayers who are paying twice or three times the cost of educating their kids, especially if the send them to private schools. They still have to pay school property taxes to support local public schools and they have to pay a state income tax, most or all of which pays for the schools in Abbott districts.
If Governor Christie wants to make the changes needed to improve education in New Jersey, he needs to identify the problems first—out of wedlock births in the inner cities, the lack of a “culture of education” embraced by all students in the Abbott districts, the massive redistribution of money from the suburbs to the Abbott districts, the subtle racism of white politicians and jurists who imply that people of color cannot run their local schools, and most importantly, that education is too important to be left to politicians.
Governor Christie is being touted as “presidential timber” because of his outspoken style, his fiscal conservatism and for “turning Trenton upside down.”
The governor will be a national hero and putative presidential contender if he takes on the real issues outlined above. Until he realizes what needs to be done, namely separate education from the state so a culture of education excellence can be created for all children, we should not waste any more time tinkering with an expensive monopoly.
Murray Sabrin is professor of finance at Ramapo College and blogs at www.MurraySabrin.com