Friday, November 18, 2011

As New Jersey Goes, So Goes the Nation

Anybody looking for a change in tone from Governor Christie after the mid-term elections should be disappointed. With a lame duck session of the Democratic-controlled legislature coming up and the prospect of more tussles over school reform and the state budget, Christie is back to being the brawler that conservatives fell in love with earlier in the year. It doesn't mean that he has the best ideas, or that he knows how to reform education so children will actually benefit, but it does mean that he's throwing rhetorical bombs for general consumption.

Exhibit A is this Mostly False rating from PolitiFact over comments the Governor made saying that the graduation rate and per-pupil spending rate in Newark shows that the system is "broken." As is often the case, Christie talks a good game, but the truth is nowhere to be found.

Next is Christie's very short-lived rapprochement with the New Jersey Education Association. Last week his Acting Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf spoke at the NJEA Convention in Atlantic City and actually said,  

"I just want to assure you, this issue of improving public education, especially for our neediest students, is not a political platform for him (Christie)," Cerf said. "It is the purpose of his being in office. He has the highest regard for teachers and teaching."

Well, um, he has an interesting way of showing his, um purpose and regard. Like saying that teachers use their students as "drug mules" to propagandize them with NJEA messages.

In case you though the guv'nor was getting soft, worry no more, because on Wednesday, Christie went back to attack mode at Secaucus High School with A message of love, but not with the NJEA. From the article:

Christie at first took a stab at diplomacy, citing the union's recent overtures on tenure reform — "We started to hear noises that they want to be part of the reform, and that's great."

He gave them a few brownie points for not running attack ads against him in the recent campaign. "You no longer see them spend … millions of dollars trying to convince you that I'm evil incarnate."

And he even hinted that they might have some say in the education overhaul that he is pushing in the lame-duck session.

But when asked if he would sit and meet and negotiate with his enemy up close – and perhaps hate them a little less — Christie balked. The reason is simple. The union remains his favorite punching bag, the large, powerful symbol of calcified Trenton status quo, the thugs that have had the political process by the throat for decades.

It's nice to know that teachers will have some say in the reform process. After all, we're the ones who will have to carry it out. 

Always remember, though, that deep down, Christie believes that the NJEA is a foe to be defeated, as he said last June:

"We need to take on the teachers union once and for all, and we need to decide who is determining our children's future, who is running this place," Christie told a group of deep-pocketed Republican donors at the now-legendary private conclave organized by oil billionaires Charles and David Koch last June. "Them or us? I say it's us."

Us versus them, indeed. Because the Koch brothers care more about your children's future than their teacher. That's the message.

The lame duck session of the New Jersey Legislature could have national implications if Christie is to get his way on tenure, vouchers, privatizing public education and charter schools.

Democratic leaders Sheila Oliver and Steve Sweeney, who caved in to their local bosses over votes on the pension and benefits bill last June, have vowed to stiffen their backs this time. For the sake of public education, let's hope so.

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