Christie tackles education

As part of his budget address Tuesday outlining an increase to state school aid, Gov. Chris Christie took time to again advocate for education reform.

“The need for reform, of course, is more urgent than ever. This is the third big challenge we must address this year. We need to reward excellent teachers, put an end to automatic tenure, and give parents trapped in failing schools a choice for a better future for their children. Once and for all, we must reward excellence and there must be consequences for failure. This is the way it is all across America – we must finally bring it to all of New Jersey’s classrooms.”

The governor’s proposal includes a doubling in school choice aid and a 50 percent boost in funding for charter schools.

And in addition to the increase in funding, Christie advocated for an easier route for charter school approval.

“I propose that all of New Jersey’s 31 public colleges become eligible to be authorizers, and that we streamline the process of getting authorized,” Christie said. “And I propose that we allow charter school conversion and a greater range of types of charter schools.”

The governor increased aid to schools this year by nearly $250 million, restoring a portion of the massive cuts enacted last year.

Barbara Keshishian, president of the New Jersey Education Association, which is comprised of more than 200,000 teachers and education support staff, said teachers will suffer and pick up the tab for Christie’s reforms.

“Any of the additional money is going to be paid for by educators and middle-class workers,” she said. “Whatever he’s offering, he’s expecting something in return. You can’t expect to balance the budget on the backs of middle-class families.”

Keshishian also wasn’t swayed by Christie’s call for more performance-based pay.

“There’s not a shred of evidence that suggests performance-based pay improves the education of the students,” she said. “If anything, it causes education to become competitive instead of collaboration. When you’re a teacher, you need to be collaborative.”

As for Christie’s call “to end automatic tenure,”  NJEA spokesman Steve Baker said the union supports a more efficient and less costly process on tenure hearings. However, the union is against basing tenure on test scores.

Keshishian wasn’t entirely dismissive of Christie’s idea to allocate more money to charter schools, since they are public schools.

“If they are operating well, they can be great places of innovation.”   

By contrast, the N.J. School Boards Association supported many aspects of the governor’s speech, although the association’s communications director Frank Belluscio said what’s important is that within two days of the budget speech the Department of Education has to release the state aid figures for each district. That’s when the districts will know the hard figures.

“We are thankful that no further cuts were made,’’ Belluscio said, “but it still is going to be a tight year for school districts.” He said it is possible those figures could be released as soon as Wednesday.

The association also liked the governor’s call to increase the number of entities that can authorize charter schools as well as streamline the approval process.

Christie wants public colleges to be able to authorize such schools, and Belluscio said his association also wants local school boards to have that right as well. He said there is a proposal already working its way through the Legislature that would do just that.

“So far the tone of what he is proposing is something we are satisfied with at this point,” Belluscio said. “We understand the state’s financial situation and we were anticipating flat funding this year.”

Assembly Budget Chair Louis Greenwald, (D-6), of Voorhees, criticized Christie’s allocation for education. “Throwing an extra $250 million at our schools this year is only giving them back one percent of the five percent the governor took away last year,” Greenwald said.  “You cannot cut over $2 billion in overall property tax relief without having an honest discussion about how to fund our broken system.”

Christie tackles education