TRENTON – Using his record over the past two years as evidence of his way forward, Gov. Chris Christie this afternoon in his State of the State address proposed a ten percent tax cut for all New Jerseyans in conjunction with deep impact schools reforms.
“We cut 375 programs in that first fiscal year, saved two billion dollars for the taxpayers, and brought Jon Corzine’s budget into balance,” Christie said at the halfway point of his gubernatorial tenure, reflecting on the work of two years.
“Next, with your help, we enacted a budget that imposed discipline, in the form of another cut in spending, for the second year in a row: cutting spending for each and every department of state government,” he added.
Christie cited the need to reduce the tax burden on citizens and business, and applauded the efforts of state Senate President Sweeney (D-3) and Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-34) to cap property tax growth at no more than 2% a year.
Capitalizing on those efforts, Christie said he now wants tax cuts for everyone – including on the state’s wealthiest residents, a tack that continues to pit him against Democrats, who want a millionaire’s tax.
“An across the board tax cut is fair – every New Jersey taxpayer will benefit,” the Governor argued. “Every New Jerseyan’s rates will go down. Every New Jerseyan will see relief. This is exactly what I was talking about when I took office; that the tough choices would lead to the right ones.”
Renewing his call for passage of a vouchers pilot program, the Opportunity Scholarship Act, the governor drilled into his education reform proposals for government cost-savings.
“Let’s face it: more money does not necessarily lead to a better education,” Christie said. “Today, in Newark, we spend $23,000 per student for instruction and services. But only 23% of ninth graders who enter high school this year will receive high school diplomas in four years. Asbury Park is similar: per pupil costs, at almost $30,000 a year, are nearly 75% above the state average. But the dropout rate is almost 10 times the state average. And math S.A.T. scores lag the state average by 180 points.
“It is time to admit that the Supreme Court’s grand experiment with New Jersey children is a failure,” the Governor added. “63% of state aid over the years has gone to the Abbott Districts and the schools are still predominantly failing. What we’ve been doing isn’t working for children in failing districts, it is unfair to the other 557 school districts and to our state’s taxpayers, who spend more per pupil than almost any state in America.”
Christie implored the legislature to enact the following in the area of education overhaul:
“reform tenure – by measuring teacher effectiveness, both with professional observation, and objective, quantifiable measures of student achievement – and then by giving tenure to those with strong evaluations, and taking it away from those whose ratings are unacceptably weak. We cannot ask parents to accept failure in teachers when their children’s lives hang in the balance;
• Second, if layoffs are necessary remove the least effective teachers instead of just the most junior ones. It is time to end the system of “last in, first out,” which protects some of the worst and penalizes some of the best;
• Third, pay teachers more when they are assigned to a failing school or to teach a difficult subject. Compensation should be designed to attract and retain effective teachers where we need them most;
• Fourth, end forced placements. Teachers should not be assigned to schools without the mutual consent of the teacher and the principal. If an acceptable placement can’t be found in 12 months, the school district should have the right to place the teacher on permanent unpaid leave;
• Fifth, we should reform our process for authorizing charter schools to attract the best operators to New Jersey, to streamline the process for the best performers, to focus on our failing school districts and to encourage innovation. We must give parents and children in failing schools an alternative; and
• Last, and perhaps most importantly, establish tax credits to provide scholarships for low income students in the worst-performing schools in the state to enable them to attend a better school, either out of the district or a private school. Opportunity should not be offered to only those in an excellent school district or with parents who have the money to release their children from the prison that is a failing school. Let’s pass the opportunity scholarship act now.