Christie outlines increase in education funding, calls for reform in N.J. budget address

Tuesday was budget address day for New Jersey as Gov. Christie presented details of his 2012-2013 fiscal plan. Total spending is projected to be $32.1 billion, with $8.8 billion appropriated to public education.

This is part of a series from blogger Laura Waters of NJ Left Behind.

Tuesday was budget address day for New Jersey as Gov. Christie presented details of his 2012-2013 fiscal plan. Total spending is projected to be $32.1 billion, with $8.8 billion appropriated to public education.

The speech offered plenty of red meat for those of the education reform persuasion, particularly in the areas of school choice and tenure reform. Indeed, Gov. Christie seemed particularly energized by his recent contretemps with his favorite whipping boy, Vince Giordano, Executive Director of NJEA.

Education Budget Numbers

Gov. Christie proposes a $108 million increase in higher education and $213 million more for the State’s 591 public school districts. The K-12 increase is 1.7% more than last year: school board members and administrators were praying for no less than flat aid and the proposed increase erased a few wrinkles on furrowed brows. (Precise details on individual school districts should start filtering in any moment now.)

Reportedly, this budget allots one of every three dollars to education.

The incident with Vince Giordano is worth recalling in this context because it has provided the Christie Administration with such a rich source of material. For those of you in hibernation, last week on a radio show the NJEA executive (widely believed to have a compensation package of about $500K per year) was asked about the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a voucher program that would provide corporate-sponsored scholarships to poor kids in a few of New Jersey’s worst school districts. Commenting about how the poor can’t always attend private and charter schools, Giordano said, “Life’s not always fair and I’m sorry about that.”

Cue Chris Christie. From Tuesday’s Budget Address:

“It’s not enough and it’s not appropriate, to simply tell our most challenged urban families, trapped in over 200 failing schools, that “life’s not fair.” That is the expressed attitude of some in the educational establishment in our state.

It is not mine. It can no longer be the attitude of this legislature. Our job is to make the future better for every child in a failing school. We cannot simply accept failure or even mediocrity. We must demand excellence.

 The opportunity to get a great education should not be a function of the zip code you live in — it should be a hallmark of growing up in New Jersey.”

Education reform

Easy segue, then, from Giordano’s slip of the tongue (which provoked a harsh response from Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf ) to the Governor’s passionate advocacy during his address for two specific items on his education reform agenda: school choice and tenure reform. In the former category, school choice, he called for the expansion of charter schools in chronically failing districts and urged passage of the long-debated Opportunity Scholarship Act.

He also proposed an additional $14 million for the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program (IPSCP). (IPSCP permits districts with empty seats to volunteer to accept students from outside district boundaries. Home districts pay tuition and transportation.)

In the latter category the Governor remarked, “We need to reform tenure. We need to pay the best teachers more.” This is a reference to a bill proposed by Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) called “TEACHNJ” which would make job security (tenure) conditional on continued classroom effectiveness and end the practice of “last in, first out” (LIFO), which means that the last person hired is the first person fired during lay-offs.

Sen. Ruiz’s bill, however, does not legislate merit pay but it’s the closest thing to meaningful tenure reform that the Garden State’s seen in some time. (NJEA has proposed a weaker tenure reform bill that still makes some consessions.)

In general, Gov. Christie artfully inserted his pet education initiatives into a larger framework of providing resources for New Jersey’s needy citizens. This construct – no doubt heartfelt but also politically astute – could serve him well as he prepares to take on larger issues of school funding in the New Jersey Supreme Court.


Laura Waters is president of the Lawrence Township School Board in Mercer County. She also writes about New Jersey’s public education on her blog NJ Left Behind. Follow her on Twitter @NJleftbehind.

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