All the way back in 2012, when Cerf was New Jersey's Education Commissioner, a big part of his job was to go around the state and defend Governor Chris Christie's cuts in state aid to schools:
The state’s top education official today defended the Christie administration’s proposed changes to the school funding formula, including a plan to spend less money on poor students.
Testifying before the Senate Budget Committee in Trenton, acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said adjusting the way public schools get state aid is good for students and will encourage teachers and administrators to boost student achievement.
"We need to collectively get out of the box that says we can define success in education by how much we spend," Cerf said. "It’s not only how much we spend — the box we’ve been pushed into by the courts — it's about an integrated strategy of policy and funds."
State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) questioned the logic of adjusting the funding before the state can fully fund the formula that was approved in 2008 by the Legislature and the state Supreme Court.
"Is it prudent to be tinkering with this when we haven’t funded what we already found to be constitutional?" Sarlo asked.
Cerf said the formula as it stands is "unfair" and "ill serves our children."
This came on the heels of Cerf's 2012-13 Education Funding Report, in which Cerf made this bold and self-righteous assertion (p. 65):State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), however, called the proposed changes unfair because they will "punish" the same districts, such as Newark, Camden and Trenton, that serve large groups of poor and minority students. [emphasis mine]
For decades, New Jersey has waged the right battle, but done so with the wrong tools. Closing the achievement gap and ensuring that all students – be they economically advantaged or disadvantaged, urban or suburban, white or black – are prepared for college and career is the single highest calling of any state department of education. And, indeed, the New Jersey Department of Education has reaffirmed that calling in this Education Funding Report. But the Department declines to reaffirm the failed mantra of administrations, legislatures, and courts past that “more money will cure all that ails us.” Part I of this Report debunks that notion. Despite per-pupil spending that has outpaced New Jersey’s wealthiest districts and is among the very highest in the country, many of the former-Abbott districts remain mired in mediocrity, unable to convert dollars into classroom success.
As Bruce Baker* pointed out in real time, this report was completely insufficient in its methods to back up Cerf's claim that gutting teacher tenure and LIFO was more important than adequately funding schools. The truth, as Baker has documented extensively, is that funding does matter, particularly for schools that serve disadvantaged students.This should be unsurprising. Pumping more money into our worst-performing districts has provided us with moral cover, persuading us that we have met our obligation to the students in those districts while allowing us to under serve them. More money has permitted past governors and legislatures to avoid the politically difficult reforms – like implementation of an educator evaluation system, tenure reform, and ending the pernicious “last in, first out” policy – so critical to turning around our lowest-performing schools. And more money has likewise allowed the Department of Education to be satisfied with a role as district compliance-monitor rather than district partner, collaborator, and, where necessary, instigator of seismic reform. [emphasis mine]
I've repeatedly tried to explain this to Chris Cerf for years. I know he reads this blog; why, then, couldn't he grasp the simple reality that schools need adequate funds, and New Jersey has not been following its own law regarding state aid to schools since Christie took office? What would it take to make Chris Cerf finally see that money matters? Why did he stubbornly cling to the error of his ways?
Apparently, having to actually run a public school district -- something Cerf has never done before -- has finally opened Cerf's eyes. Now that he's at the helm in Newark, money suddenly seems to matter after all:
Yes, Cerf's self-contradiction on charter schools is certainly surprising. But what's more amazing is Chris Cerf's blatant flip-flop on school funding.
If 2012 Chris Cerf were standing next to 2015 Chris Cerf, he'd probably be rolling his eyes and wagging his finger, chiding himself for wanting to "pump more money into our worst performing districts." He'd be accusing 2015 Cerf of repeating the "failed mantra" that “more money will cure all that ails us."
Fortunately, 2015 Cerf has been attending services here regularly and heeding the preaching of Reverend Jazzman. My posts, Baker's research, and the realties of his new job have made him finally see the light: you can't spend money "wisely" if you don't have it. Cerf has come over to the side of equitable and adequate funding for our schools; he has heard the gospel truth, and it has set him free!
I once was lost, but now I'm found...