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

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Christie's New School Proposal Will Target Teachers Of Color

What do you do if you're the governor of New Jersey and a potentially embarrassing major trial begins?

Gov. Chris Christie is asking the state Supreme Court to reopen the landmark Abbott v. Burke case that redefined school funding and to give the state education chief power to bypass laws and bargaining agreements that protect veteran teachers, the governor's office announced Thursday. 
In a legal filing by Attorney General Christopher Porrino, the Christie administration is asking the court to freeze state aid to the former Abbott districts until a new funding system is put in place.
Christie also wants the state education commissioner to have the power to overrule labor agreements in those districts that he sees as detrimental to students, such as the "last in first out" policy for teacher layoffs. [emphasis mine]
Christie has been running around the state the past few months pushing his "Fairness Formula," a school funding plan that would allocate the same amount of state aid for every student, regardless of whether that student is in economic disadvantage, and regardless of a community's capacity to raise taxes. As I've pointed out, the plan makes absolutely no sense: see here and here for full analyses.

Now, Christie wants to go even further off the deep end: not only slash state funding to these districts but overturn legally binding contracts and state statutes. It's an astonishing display of contempt for both the rule of law and the democratic legislative process. How can he possible justify this? What is he hoping to accomplish?
The governor said the answer was to instead acknowledge the fact that urban students often lacked the support structures, stable home lives and advantages of suburban districts like Berkeley Township, where he was speaking.
"I'm not worried about the kids in Berkeley doing well; they are doing well," said Christie.
"We're not doing it for the kids in the cities...We're teaching them the same way we teach the kids in Berkeley." 
The governor then explained that he'd be willing to keep school funding in place in exchange for longer school days and a longer school year, but union intransigence has stood in the way.
"I would pay what I am paying now, in Newark, if I could have a longer school day and a longer school year," Christie said. "But I can't. I have to pay what I'm paying and get what I'm getting...I'm paying for failure now. They're failure factories. And the people who are responsible for this need to be held accountable." [emphasis mine]
Well, Chris, you have been running the Newark, Jersey City, and Paterson schools for seven years, so...

Stop and think about this for a minute: Chris Christie does not want to negate contracts in all districts; he only wants to gut tenure and LIFO in the so-called SDA districts -- the 31 former Abbott districts that were the original plaintiffs in New Jersey school funding equity lawsuits. Most (but not all) of these districts have remained among the least affluent, most property-poor communities in the state.

Christie's own legal filing states he is only looking to skirt legal contracts and state laws in the SDA districts:
AND further good cause appearing:
  IT IS on this _____ day of _______, 2016 ORDERED:
1.That the Commissioner is granted the authority to waive statutory requirements and provisions of collective negotiation agreements in SDA Districts that serve as impediments to a thorough and efficient education, consistent with the Court’s opinion in this matter;
Now, think about who teaches in SDA districts, and who teaches in districts like Berkeley Township. Might there be a difference?

Let me spell it out for you:

Christie's plan to strip tenure and seniority protections from SDA districts would disproportionately affect teachers of color.

SDA districts enroll many more students of color proportionally than non-SDA districts. It shouldn't be a surprise, then, that these same districts employ many more teachers of color. 22% of SDA teachers are Black, compared to 3% in non-SDA districts. 18% of SDA teachers are Hispanic; only 3% of non-SDA teachers are Hispanic.

Legally, this is referred to as "disparate impact": while teachers of color are not specifically targeted by the proposal, the impact of it is racially biased. For the proposal to be legal, the state would then have to show there was a rational basis for the proposal, and that it couldn't otherwise be achieved with policies that weren't racially biased.

Good luck with that. There is scant evidence that tenure leads to worse student outcomes, and the California appellate court in the Vergara trial showed that proving LIFO harms students is a very tough task. And the argument here would be even more difficult: showing seniority is an impediment to student learning in some districts but not others. 

I'm way past niceties when it comes to Chris Christie and education policy, so let me be blunt: this proposal is even more stupid than the Fairness Formula. Asking the court to throw out constitutional laws -- including the tenure law, which Christie himself signed and bragged about for years! -- without a shred of evidence to show they harm students is ludicrous. Asking the court to throw out legally binding employment contracts negotiated in good faith while upholding similar contracts in other districts is insane.

Chris Cerf, Newark's State Superintendent, has suggested lately -- and rather cynically -- that Christie doesn't really expect the Fairness Formula to be passed as he proposes it. It's merely a starting point for a negotiation, you see. 

This, in my view, is different. If Christie is trying to negotiate, he's starting from a place where he wants to throw out laws and contracts, but only for some staff, who just happen to more likely be teachers of color. No one who is serious about making good policy would ever make a proposal that was as contemptuous of educators -- and, let's be truthful, as flat-out racist -- as what Christie proposed today.

Hang on folks -- we're getting near the end. A little more than a year to go. We'll have a big mess to clean up, but at least the state's largest roadblock to improving our schools will be gone.

Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, a Republican, praised Mr. Christie’s move, saying it showed his “commitment to the success of students who are being left behind by an outdated public-education system.”
Jon Bramnick's district includes some of the most property-rich districts in the state (including the one where I work). These districts would have an enormous advantage under the Fairness Formula, because they would get much more state aid and have the capacity to tax themselves at low rates, yet collect large amounts of revenue. Why? Because when a town's property values are high, it can set lower tax rates to collect the same amount of money compared to a town with lower property values.

So Bramnick's districts would have even more money to attract the most qualified teachers. But if Christie's proposal went through, they would also be able to offer teachers tenure and and seniority protections -- unlike the SDA districts. Terry Moe, a labor economist who is no friend to teachers unions, has pointed out that "...most teachers see the security of tenure as being worth tens of thousands of dollars a year.

So Bramnick's districts would have a double advantage over SDA districts: better pay for teachers, and workplace protections. Plus, more revenue means better working conditions. How could the SDA districts possibly compete for the dwindling number of highly-qualified teachers available?

I understand the assemblyman wants to advocate for his constituents. But does Jon Bramnick really think it's good for all children to perpetuate a system so rife with inequity? Is he so cynical that he won't consider the damage that will be done to students outside of his own district? For that matter: does he really think his voters care so little about the other children in this state?

I've met Bramnick a few times. He's a very personable fellow. He comes across as if he really does care about the best interests of the state as a whole. But it's beyond me how anyone who supports this racist, classist madness could sleep at night.

1 comment:

LazarX said...

Is he so cynical that he won't consider the damage that will be done to students outside of his own district? For that matter: does he really think his voters care so little about the other children in this state?

He's probably right. Most parents care about their own kids first, and students outside of their home districts not at all. Most suburbanites are descendants of those who fled the cities last century, and wrote them off. In fact those who lived in suburbs adjoining Paterson, in both East and West Paterson, campaigned to change the name of their towns because they didn't want to be associated with a blight city.