I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Another Reformy Reformer Leaves NJ

One of the blessings/curses of a long memory is that when a piece of hagiography is published -- like this goodbye to Reverend Reginald Jackson, written by the predictably reformy Star-Ledger editorial page editor, Tom Moran --  you can't help but marvel at all the history that gets magically swept away:
Jackson is known to most as the hero in the fight against racial profiling by the State Police in the 1990s, when he was head of the Black Ministers' Council. And he most certainly is that.
But dig deeper, and the man is full of surprises. He's the leading voice for school choice in New Jersey, and says black legislators have sold out poor kids in return for support from the teachers' union.
He says white Americans are too often clueless about racism, and that blacks are too often clueless about whites. He considers it a great blessing that his path in life has allowed him to cross that divide so easily.
He endorsed Gov. Chris Christie for re-election in 2013, mostly over education, and he cringes now when it comes up, saying the governor's soul seems to have been poisoned by ambition. [emphasis mine]
No wonder Moran speaks about the reverend in such glowing tones: they both endorsed Christie because they loved how the governor does battle with the NJEA. Too bad they were both so blinded by their reflexive disdain for the teachers union that they couldn't see Christie was a horrible governor in his first term, and that his opponent, Barbara Buono, would have been a far better choice.

But as long as anyone is willing to take shots at the NJEA and advocate for "reforms" like school vouchers, reformy folks like Moran and Jackson will ignore the obvious:
On school choice: Jackson favors both vouchers, which would provide poor children in failing districts with money to attend private schools, and charters, which are privately run schools financed with tax dollars.
"If you live in Millburn and the public school is not giving your child a good education, they can afford to send their child to a better school. Folks in Orange don't have that option...the position of the state is, well, if you can't afford it, too bad."
"I'm surprise there is so much opposition (to charters). When it comes to the education of children, 'By any means necessary.'"
What both Moran and Jackson fail to note is that Jackson's wife, Christy Davis Jackson, is the former CEO of Excellent Education for Everyone, at the time the state's biggest lobbyist for vouchers. Mrs. Jackson (who has a rather... interesting past) was making $147K in 2012 according to E3's tax forms (available at Guidestar). The group appears to have gone dark around 2014; still, it was a nice gig while it lasted.

E3, run for a time by the reformy Derrell Bradford, pushed the Opportunity Scholarship Act for years in New Jersey. And yet the school voucher scheme never became law, likely because it was always horrible policy. OSA would have overwhelmingly benefitted private yeshivas in Lakewood, and would have had little impact on cities like Newark and Camden because private school seats there are already severely limited, and the amount would have been a fraction of the cost of an elite private school education.

The evidence supporting vouchers is quite weak, and there is good reason to believe they promote segregation rather than ameliorate it. But they direct public funds toward religious institutions -- a policy Reverend Jackson has been interested in for years:
Rev. Reginald Jackson said he was celebrating after all five charter schools proposed by the Black Ministers Council were approved. They include an East Orange school with single-gender classrooms and a high school offering online instruction and instrumental music classes for students in East Orange, Irvington and Newark.
"I’m aware that most of our children are always going to be in public schools ... but at the same time parents ought to have options," said Jackson, executive director of the council. [emphasis mine]
Hey, if you can't get public monies through vouchers, why not give charter schools a try? According to NJ Spotlight, one of the applications Jackson's group backed was from anti-marriage equity crusader Pastor Amir Khan. I spent a lot of time reporting on Khan's attempts to open a charter school in Cherry Hill back in 2012; one of my favorite moments was when Chris Christie denied knowing who Khan was even as the pastor was sitting right behind him at a political event.

Khan admitted that he wanted a charter school to help shore up his church's finances:
October, 2011: Khan admits, in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer's James Osborne:
But the opening of the larger charter school is essential to the church's plan to buy the land from the diocese, he said.
"We were anticipating the charter school to get additional income to carry us," he said. [emphasis mine]
November, 2011: Khan confesses to Osborne:
"I could sell a bikini to an Eskimo," Khan once boasted.
Khan's charter, facing intense community opposition, never opened -- but he wasn't alone. So far as I've been able to determine, none of the charters Jackson said his Black Minister's Council supported ever opened:
  • Not Therman Evans Charter School for Excellence in Linden,
  • Not the Atlantic Preparatory School in Mays Landing,
  • Not Visions of Destiny Academy for Academic Excellence in Trenton,
  • Not Arete Charter School in Orange,
  • Not Spirit Prep in East Orange (see here).
Why was Chris Christie's DOE granting all of these charters if the schools' planning process was so poor that none of them actually opened? I believe there are actually two reasons: first, Jackson was obviously a powerful political ally and Christie was going to grant his wishes in exchange for his support. 

Second, the NJDOE had put unqualified yet politically connected players like Derrell Bradford and Shelley Skinner on its charter review panels. Given their ideological predilections for "choice" and their lack of practical experience in running schools -- making them poor judges of charter applications -- it was inevitable that plenty of charters that shouldn't have been approved would get the nod.

None of this, of course, is brought up in Moran's piece. Instead, Moran uses his time with Jackson to take yet another gratuitous shot at the NJEA:
On blacks and school choice: Jackson noted that in urban districts like Newark, families overwhelmingly choose charter schools when given the chance, and would use vouchers if they could. He's disappointed, he says, that black politicians and suburban blacks are not more supportive. 
"I received a whole lot of criticism from black legislators because of my positions on education. And yet, back at that time, there was not a single African-American legislator who had their own child in the public schools. 
"The problem was for most African-American legislators, they got their funding for the campaigns from the New Jersey Education Association. It bothered me then and it bothers me now that the funding of campaigns was much more important." 
"The union's number one priority is not the education of children: It's the salaries and benefits of the members of the union. And we need to always remember that." 
"Most people think the toughest issue for me was racial profiling. It was not. On racial profiling there was no division among blacks. But on education, you have a lot of blacks who live in the suburbs; their kids go to good schools and are doing well. So when they see blacks in the inner city, it's not their fight."
First of all, there are a number of researchers and scholars who would question Jackson's sanguine attitude toward the schooling black children receive in the suburbs. Second, as I said above, overwhelmingly the OSA vouchers were going to benefit Lakewood families whose students were already attending yeshivas, but not the vast majority of black families.

Third: it's becoming increasingly clear that "choice" is not the panacea for addressing education inequities that advocates like Jackson make it out to be. The NAACP is calling for a moratorium on privately-managed charters, citing fiscal mismanagement and damage to public district schools as its reasons. Charter proliferation has done little to improve segregation, nor racially-biased discipline policies.

America's families of color want safe, well-funded schools with high quality teachers where students are treated fairly. Many are undoubtedly signing up for charters because they view them as better alternatives than underfunded, crumbling public schools; that doesn't mean, however, that these same families are in favor of a system that disadvantages public schools to the benefit of charters.

In New Jersey, charters have been "held harmless" in their funding for several years, even as the state has pulled back on its commitment to funding equity under Chris Christie. In fact, Christie was underfunding urban public schools well before his reelection -- but Jackson supported him anyway. Now Jackson has his doubts about Christie's awful "Fairness Formula," which would be, according to his own state superintendent in Newark, "cataclysmic" for urban schools. Jackson now says:
 "I endorsed him almost solely on the issue I thought he was right on, education. For that I am still repenting."
"I'm sitting in a sanctuary and there are some things you can't say. And his school plan is one of them. It is absolute rubbish. I don't think he's genuinely committed to it. I think he's doing it for political reasons."
But where was Jackson back in 2011, when Christie was slashing hundreds of millions of dollars from NJ schools, particularly in urban centers? Isn't the "Fairness Formula" the logical continuation of those policies? Why didn't Jackson withhold his endorsement until Christie committed to fully funding New Jersey's schools?

For that matter: where was Jackson when the proliferation of charters in Camden and Newark led to the whitening of the teaching corps in both of those cities? Is he fine with urban students having teachers with less experience, and who are paid less, than teachers in suburban schools?

If Jackson ever had a problem with any of this, I must have missed hearing his objections. Instead, his time seemed to be taken up with pushing largely useless school vouchers. Back in 2013, he was willing to ignore all of Christie's other failures so long as the incumbent got behind OSA:
The minister said he endorsed Christie despite his veto last year of a minimum-wage increase proposed by Democrats, and despite the high unemployment rate among blacks during the Republican governor's first term. He described it as a "personal endorsement"; the nonprofit Black Ministers Council, a tax-exempt religious group, cannot by law endorse candidates. 
Jackson was a co-signer, with 42 others, of a letter to Christie last month urging him to speed up the pace of school repairs and construction in Newark. The state's Schools Development Authority, which Christie has control over, has moved too slowly in the last three and a half years, they wrote. 
"I'm always for enhancing and improving school facilities," Jackson said today. But in the end, he made his endorsement based on the vouchers, and said he was disheartened by black Democrats whose districts house failing schools.
Now, as he prepares to leave the state, Jackson shares his regrets. Like so many others, including Moran, he had Christie's back when it counted... but now he's very, very sorry.

I'm sure he wishes the best for those of us who remain in New Jersey and will have to clean up Christie's mess after 2017.

How many more days until I'm outta here?

ADDING: Here's Jackson on Hillary Clinton:
On Bill and Hillary Clinton: "They have fostered this perception that the laws that apply to everyone else don't apply to them, and that's problematic. I am a strong supporter, but I have to be honest. I know people will be upset with me for saying that, but that's the way it is."
 Let me just pull this out of the memory hole (from 2007) and leave it right here:
Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign returned a $2,300 contribution from Christy Davis Jackson on July 5 — just seven days after it was received. Davis Jackson, a veteran New Jersey political operative and the wife of one of one of the state's most politically influential ministers, actively sought the state campaign director post. Instead, the Clinton campaign picked Karen Kominsky for the post — reportedly at the urging of Governor Jon Corzine and against the wishes of several key state Clinton fundraisers.
Davis Jackson was the Co-Campaign Manager of Corzine's 2000 U.S. Senate primary campaign, and served as Vice President for Government Affairs at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey until her resignation in 2005. At the time, Davis Jackson denied her resignation was related to a federal grand jury subpoena of records connected to her UMDNJ post. [emphasis mine]
OK, then...

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