New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s dissatisfaction with the state of urban education in general and the quality of some of the state’s public school teachers, in particular, is nothing new.
But the Republican took it to a new level Sept. 15 when he asked the New Jersey Supreme Court for the power to radically transform a system that Christie believes is in need of some creative destruction.
When he needed to light a fire under his GOP presidential primary campaign in August 2015, Christie told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the national teachers union deserved “a punch in the face” and branded it as “the single most destructive force in public education.”
Flash forward to September 2016, and Christie has turned up the heat on New Jersey public school teachers by asking the state’s Supreme Court to give him the power to set aside tenure law and educators’ contracts in low-achieving urban districts.
Without that hammer, Christie said there is no way he can fulfill the promise of the Abbott v. Burke New Jersey Supreme Court decision that mandated urban schools receive enough state aid to offer a “thorough and efficient” education to every child.
The New York Post reported that, to date, New Jersey taxpayers have poured nearly $100 billion into the 41 so-called “Abbott Districts” without much improvement to show for it.
Christie’s Supreme Court motion makes the argument that New Jersey’s funding formula has not worked for 30 years and isn’t like to start achieving the desired results — better education for children — anytime soon.
Christie argued it’s nothing short of “criminal” to continue throwing more cash into a public education system unless he has the power to overturn teacher tenure.
“The real thing that’s preventing us from teaching kids in these districts are the ridiculous work rules that are imposed upon us by statute and by collective bargaining agreements with the teachers union that prevents us from doing common sense things like, if there are going to be layoffs in our schools, that we should lay off the least effective teachers, not do layoffs, as we are required to do by state law, based purely upon seniority,” Christie said.
Christie doesn’t see any room for compromise. The day after his Supreme Court filing Christie said the teachers union is the last place he could go to seek support for admittedly radical changes in public education.
Christie told an audience about a letter he received from a fourth-grade teacher who had a picture taken with him and then made the mistake of posting the photo at the front of her classroom.
“My union rep came to the classroom, and she said, take the picture down. And she said, why should I take the picture down? It’s a picture of the governor, I’m teaching about New Jersey. She said, he’s not a friend of ours take the picture down,” Christie said the teacher wrote. “And she said, well, this isn’t right, he’s the governor, I’m teaching about New Jersey, it’s a good picture, I talked to the kids about it, I should keep it up. She put her hand on her arm and said, remember, you’re not tenured yet.”
“Could you imagine if I went into a classroom and saw a picture of the teachers union president at the front of the room and said hey, take that down because I don’t agree with his politics?” Christie asked his audience. “There’d be five investigations.”
Donna M. Chiera, the president of the New Jersey chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said giving Christie the power to do away with teacher tenure on a selective basis in the state’s poorer district would not help any of the children get better educations.
“Canceling teacher contracts and getting rid of tenure, which has never guaranteed a job for life, will not fix struggling schools,” Chiera said. “Improving educational outcomes actually takes what teachers unions like ours have been fighting for—fixing not closing schools with adequate funding, providing appropriate resources and innovating with proven programs that have worked to turn around struggling schools elsewhere around the country.”
Wendell Steinhauer, the president of the New Jersey Education Association, proudly accepted the label of being “New Jersey’s vision of the Corleones,” slapped on the NJEA by Gov. Christie.
“Chris Christie’s obsessive focus on NJEA shows that we are making a difference,” Steinhauer told NorthJersey.com. “We are proud that our advocacy is so threatening to Chris Christie.”
But Democratic Assemblyman Troy Singleton was not that charitable when he heard about Christie’s reference to the Godfather movies’ Corleone family on the day public schools opened for a new scholastic year.
“On a day when so many of us as parents are turning our most precious creations over to teachers, the governor once again crosses the line,” Singleton said in a statement. “It’s like he’s developed an acute case of ‘Trump-itis.'”