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

Friday, July 7, 2017

Chris Christie, The Beach, and Our Leaders' Massive School Funding Hypocrisy

So you all know about this by now, and none of you are the least bit surprised.

You aren't surprised because, like me, you've been reading for years about Chris Christie's petty greed, childish indulgences, lack of commitment to his job, aversion to hard work, absence of self-restraint, and just general "who gives a s***?" attitude toward ethicsThis is what Chris Christie does, and it's why he's currently the least popular governor in the nation.

But this last incident was, to me, telling for another reason.

Let's review how Christie spun his beach excursion when he got caught straight out lying:
Christie addressed the issue in a phone call Monday morning to Fox-5 New York, explaining how every New Jersey governor is allowed to use two residences in the state: the Drumthwacket mansion in Princeton and the summer house. The governor said last week that he and his family planned to celebrate their son's birthday party at the latter this past weekend. 
"The governor is allowed to go to his residences, and I'm at my residences," Christie told the television station. "I'll tell you this: I said last Monday, a week ago today, that no matter what happens, we were coming here as a family this weekend. ... This is one of the places we live." [emphasis mine]
Ah, I see: he was with his family. So it's not an abuse of power at all, or a case of massive hypocrisy. Because it was his family.

Allow me to go back into the memory vault. June, 2011:

“Hey, Gail, you know what? First off, it’s none of your business. I don’t ask you where you send your kids to school, don’t bother me about where I send mine. Secondly, I pay $38,000 a year in property taxes for a public school system, predominantly in Mendham, that my wife and I don’t choose to utilize because we believe – we’ve decided as parents – that we believe a religious education should be part of our children’s everyday education so we send our children to parochial school. Third, I as Governor, am responsible for every child in this state, not just my own, and the decisions I make are to try to improve educational opportunities of every child in this state. So, with all due respect, it’s none of your business.” [transcript link]
As I've pointed out before, Christie's rationalization that he only wants to provide a religious education to his children masks the fact that he sent his children to private schools that spent, per pupil, far more than the public schools he has underfunded during his entire two terms.

The gap between what his own children' schools spend and what the public schools spend is further compounded by the fact that the public schools educate all children, not just the ones who can afford high tuition rates and can pass admissions standards. The Christie kids went to schools with few at-risk, special needs, or limited English proficient students, keeping their costs much lower.

The high tuition charges and different student populations allow those schools to have smaller class sizes, lower student:teacher ratios, a broad curriculum, and extensive extracurriculars. The Christie family enjoyed all of these benefits, even as the governor repeatedly ignored the state's own law and kept public school spending below levels needed to obtain adequacy.

Understand that this disparity in school funding has been taking place in an environment where the wealthiest New Jersey residents -- like the Christies -- pay a lower overall state and local effective tax rate than the least affluent residents.

In other words: When it comes to school funding, Christie's kids have been playing on the beach while most other children in the state have been locked out.

To be clear: I really don't have a problem with Christie, or anyone else, sending their children to elite private schools, or to wealthy suburban public schools. What I find so disturbing is when some of those same people then turn around and declare how important education is for purposes of social equity, but refuse to support policies that adequately and equitably fund schools.

Even worse is when these people substitute funding reform for "reforminess." They claim that things like charter schools, gutting teacher workplace rights, expanded testing, test-based teacher evaluation, curricular changes, "personalized learning," and school vouchers can serve as substitutes for adequately and equitably funding schools.

But they then turn around and put their own children in elite private schools that spend far more per pupil than public schools -- especially urban public schools. And again: these schools enroll very few children with special needs, keeping their costs relatively low.

You will often hear these reformsters acknowledge that factors such as economic inequality and segregation negatively impact educational outcomes; however, in the same breath, they will gravely intone, "We can't wait to fix poverty!"

And so, their thinking goes, we have to expand charter schools no matter the negative consequences, or expand testing and its unvalidated uses no matter the negative consequences, or put more unproven digital stuff into schools no matter the possible negative consequences, and so on. And we have to do all this right now.

It seems to me, however, that we now have more than enough evidence that school funding matters. It matters a lot. I mean, funding really matters. It does.

Maybe we can't solve poverty and segregation quickly; we could, however start getting more resources into schools that need it todayBut getting adequate funding to schools -- a necessary pre-condition for educational success -- isn't so much a problem of a lack of resources as it is a matter of political will.

We've got plenty of money in this country (even if it is distributed extraordinarily unequally). There's very little evidence we're overspending on schooling relative to the rest of the world. We could drive more resources into the schools that enroll our least advantaged students much more quickly than we could expand private schools using vouchers or expand properly regulated charter schools.

But we don't. Instead, our leaders keep pushing reformy schemes based on outlier "successes" rather than funding reform, a policy that would quickly provide improvements across the K-12 education system. Worse, many of these same leaders then refuse to subject their own children to their designs, opting instead to enroll them in highly resourced schools.

Chris Christie will be gone in a few months, and New Jersey might then begin to have a serious conversation about education funding. Sadly, many of our nation's leaders, Republican and Democrat alike, are following Christie's example. They refuse to address the issue of inadequate and inequitable school funding head on.

Fortunately, even conservatives are starting to realize that effective schools and other government services come at a price. Let's hope the era of Chris Christie and his ilk -- and era where unproven reformy nonsense has replaced a commitment to getting schools the resources they need -- will soon come to an end.

If I had to pick one...

ADDING: In the very earliest days of this blog -- April, 2010 -- I said that where Chris Christie sent his own kids to school was no one's business.

I was wrong.

Of course, this was before Christie repeatedly underfunded the public schools, even after the Great Recession. This was before the lies of Chapter 78. This was before Christie tried to slash funding to the urban districts with his cruel "Fairness Formula." This was before Christie showed repeatedly he never took education policy seriously. This was even before Christie unloaded some of his worst invective at the NJEA and teachers around the state.

But I still should have known better. Anyone who is against the adequate and equitable funding of public schools yet sends their own children to a well-resourced private or public school is a massive hypocrite.

They should be called so in no uncertain terms.

ADDING MORE: Seriously?
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Chris Christie is getting his shot at sportsradio.
Christie will fill in for Mike Francesa on Monday, July 10th and Tuesday, July 11th, as part of an audition on WFAN in New York.
There's no chance Christie will resign before the end of the summer -- he likes that beach house too much. But is it too much to ask that he at least pretend he's interested in being the governor in exchange?

1 comment:

Giuseppe said...

I haven't decided yet: Is Christie the worst education governor ever in NJ history or the best ANTI-education governor in our history? Never mind, it amounts to the same thing, CC has been absolutely horrible for education in this state. Eight years of negative policies, eight years of bashing and demeaning public schools and their teachers. Bush's (NCLB) and Obama's (RTTT) education policies were quite bad and now we have Trump/DeVos, school privatization on steroids. My guess is that CC will be a flop as a radio broadcaster because he is so unpopular as governor; that unpopularity will transfer over to his radio gig, he will be trolled non stop by his many haters and detractors which he so richly deserves. Doesn't his mansion in Mendham have a swimming pool and isn't it big enough for a family outing? Maybe if the Democrats hadn't betrayed Barbara Buono, their own candidate, we would not have been stuck with 8 years of this obnoxious bloviator.
The D party deserves a lot of blame for enabling the 2nd term of CC.