By Brenda Flanagan
“I am the worst thing that ever happened to the teachers’ union, because for the first time I’m telling the truth,” said Gov. Chris Christie.
But, truth is relative. In Christie’s view, New Jersey’s poured $100 billion tax dollars since 1985 into 31 special needs school districts — which continue to fail their kids — and teacher unions have relentlessly hindered his efforts to improve the system. So,Christie’s filed a lawsuit.
“It’s your governor going to the court and saying enough is enough, on behalf of the people of this state, we’re tired of paying for failure, we need this system to change. We filed that today and we’re going to fight for you in the Supreme Court rather than have the educational interest being the ones who are always fighting there with her handouts saying they need more of your money,” Christie said.
The suit asks New Jersey’s Supreme Court to basically break its own landmark Abbott v. Burke decision. It claims collective bargaining restrictions with teacher unions — like last-hired-first-fired rules — are unconstitutional because they “…effectively limit the districts’ freedom to provide the students with the most qualified teachers, to introduce new programs or to increase total teacher/student contact hours, which would be in the best interest of the school children; AND…impede the state’s ability to fulfill the guarantee of a thorough and efficient system of education for all public school children…”
“This is a political ploy. He’s doing the same thing over and over again,” said NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer.
Union officials note Christie signed a teacher tenure reform law back in 2012 after New Jersey’s high court refused to consider the issue.
“If the governor wants to change anything — evaluation, tenure, collective bargaining rights — he knows he has to go through the Legislature to do it,” Steinhauer said.
“He can fire crummy teachers right now,” said Newark Teachers Union President John Abeigon.
Newark’s teacher union president says reforms already let districts move to dismiss teachers for bad performance.
“I’m saying that 90 percent of our tenure hearings, we win. We’re successful in defending the teacher. Unfortunately, it’s a shame, because it’s further enriching the law firms that work for these state-operated districts,” Abeigon said.
“I’m really perplexed at why the governor would even try this because the court has already said, look, if you want these kind of changes, fine. Don’t come to us, go to the Legislature,” said David Sciarra.
The Education Law Center’s Sciarra predicts New Jersey’s high court will deny Christie’s second request: to freeze funding for a year until he and the Legislature can devise a better way to distribute those dollars, like Christie’s so-called Fairness Formula. It proposes a flat, about $6,600 per student across the board.
“The governor can go to the Legislature tomorrow and present his radical, Robin Hood aid redistribution plan, where he’s going to take huge amounts of money away from the education of poor kids in the state and transfer it around the rest of the state for property tax relief,” Sciarra said. “Probably why he went to the court is, he knows the Legislature will not pass his plan.”
The state Senate just passed a bill creating a special commission to study New Jersey’s education funding crisis. Meanwhile, Christie’s critics prepare for another court battle and claim the governor’s truth is less about kids and more about politics.