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

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Christie Uses NRA To Silence His Biggest Critics

Say what you will about Chris Christie, he but always takes advantage of a good political opportunity.

Yesterday, with one simple statement, he managed to pull himself toward the political center in anticipation of his upcoming campaign for reelection as New Jersey's governor, and set up a defense against what could be one of the most effective attacks against him in that campaign.

Because when Christie lashed out against the NRA, he not only created his own Sister Souljah moment; he set up a defense against his personal hypocrisy on the issue of school funding.

Let me start by giving Christie his due here. The plain truth is that even if I believe the power of the NRA is way overstated, it still takes political courage for any nationally recognized Republican to take them on. Christie deserves credit for doing so; however, it would be naive not to acknowledge that there is a benefit, in a deep blue state like New Jersey, for a Republican governor to triangulate against the gun lobby.

What's really slick about Christie's statement, however, is that he has used this moment to challenge the notion that it is fair game to talk about his children:

(1:51) I think it's awful to bring public figures children into the political debate. They don't deserve to be there. And I think for any of us who are public figures, you see kind of ad and you cringe. You cringe, because it's just not appropriate in my view to do that. They've got real issues to debate on this topic. Get to the real issues. Don't be dragging people's children into this; it's wrong.

Why does this matter? Because, on the issue of school funding, Chris Christie is one of the biggest hypocrites in America.

All of Christie's children go to private schools which brag on low student:teacher ratios, broad and rich curricula, lots of extracurriculars, and large amounts of spending per child. His eldest son, for example, attended the tony Delbarton School in Morristown. I've written about this before:
Chris Christie sends his sons to the Delbarton School:
The course of study offers preparation in all major academic subjects and a number of electives.
The studies are intended to help a boy shape a thought and sentence, to speak clearly about ideas and effectively about feelings, and to seek relevant facts in making judgments.
The faculty, many of whom hold higher degrees in field, consists of 80 men and women. And because the average class size is 15 and student-teacher ratio 7:1, the learning environment at Delbarton is designed to be intimate and challenging. [emphasis mine]

Tuition for the 2011-12 academic year is $27,800.00. Tuition is all-inclusive and covers such items as a daily hot lunch, technology costs, and activity fees.
Actual costs per student:

Delbarton Fund contributions are used to support technology upgrades, athletic fields and facilities, service projects, financial aid for worthy students, and maintenance of the campus, among others.Fundraising as a whole covers 10% of the annual budget, or approximately $1,900 of each student's tuition. [emphasis mine]

Remember: that nearly $28K in tuition doesn't even cover the full costs of educating a student at Delbarton. And the student body does not have children with severe or even moderate learning disabilities, physical disabilities, or emotional problems. The school doesn't educate children living in chronic poverty or who have limited proficiency in English; these are the children who are the most expensive to educate.

Yet even as the Christie children have enjoyed their education - an education free of state-mandated standardized testing - the governor himself has waged a campaign to defund schools across the state. Back in 2010, he slashed state aid to schools so severely that even relatively affluent districts were forced to cut programs and charge activity fees. Shamelessly, when the courts forced Christie to restore many of his cuts (thank you Education Law Center!), he actually bragged that he had increased state funding for education, when all he had really done was partially restore the draconian cuts he made the year before (you have to include the surpluses he forced districts to use up as part of his cuts).

This year, in an effort to play to his suburban base, Christie has sent his privatization-loving Education Commissioner, Chris Cerf, out to sell a funding plan that would severely impact the poorest districts in the state. Cerf's scheme to recalculate funding weights as required by the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) would most heavily impact the former Abbott districts, denying large amounts of funding to the children who need it the most. Those kids would have to make do without the many advantages Christie has afforded his own children in their educations.

There is only one defense that Christie can mount against this shamelessness: screaming that any discussion of his personal hypocrisy is an attack against his children and off limits. He's tried it before:

Looking back at this YouTube moment, it's worth noting that Christie never addressed the question: how can he call for spending cuts when his own children go to schools that spend so much per pupil and don't have to serve the most expensive children to educate?

The truth is - and Christie knows this - that there is no answer; his hypocrisy is transparent and outrageous. The only chance he has to defuse the issue is to conflate his children's security - a legitimate concern - with the disparity between the costs of their education and the educations of the poorest children in the state.

The Democratic nominee who runs against him for the governor's seat in Trenton should not back down on this shameless posturing. Christie is vulnerable on this issue; he should be held to account for insisting on less for your children than his own.

When I don't have a good answer, I make this face!

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