Saturday, April 10, 2010

Christie Guts Education

I was reading an article posted on Facebook about NJ Governor Christie's cuts to educational funding. Some of the responses seemed to cheer for Christie and these huge cuts, claiming that they were aimed squarely at corruption. This is a short version of my opinion on the topic. I think there's a lot of misconceptions on this issue:

Cutting funding for education isn't going after corruption. It's a blatant affront to public service. What corruption there is won't be so easily weeded out. But he and others like him are in favor of voucher systems and charter schools, this is an attack on the secular public schools in favor of private (and largely religious) private schools.

It's also an attack on the communities that need this most. If you look at the list of cuts the biggest (dollar wise) are in the neediest areas. Obviously Upper Saddle River schools will get by without an extra $300k, and they'll have an easier time finding a way to replace that money. Passaic and Paterson schools lost millions, and they'll have to cut innumerable services and jobs to make up for that. They cannot squeeze blood from a stone by raising local taxes enough to cover this. Indeed, even if they could Christie has made sure that's impossible because the cuts across the board are 5% or more and local municipalities are only allowed to raise property taxes enough to cover a 4% school budget increase.

But let's look at the corruption issue and charter schools. What makes anyone think charter schools are immune to corruption? Evidence points to as much or more corruption in charter schools. Let's use my hometown of Dayton, OH as an example. Faced with high unemployment and low tax revenues the city tried a charter school system that promised to cut costs and corruption. The result? Charter school owners took the money and ran, did not provide even half of the services they promised, and many of them have been shut down with their administrators indicted or sued by the city. Now the city's schools are in complete shambles and the system is bankrupt, bogged down with several lawsuits and scrambling to figure out what to do with children who no longer have schools.... See More

Instead of hearing failed stories like this we're presented with the stories of privileged children who excel in these schools. In upper-middle class areas where families have two parents and home life is easy. Areas where charter schools are easy to fund and likely to succeed, and there's little evidence that the public schools were failing. Areas where there is no need for after-school programs, or food assistance, allowing the schools to operate cheaply and at a profit.

Then there's the teachers. Do you think charter school teacher make so much less than public school teachers? Do you think public school teachers make so very much money? In NJ, one of the highest paying states for teachers in the country (but also one of the wealthiest states and among the highest cost of living), teachers make on average slightly more than the average college graduate. Those averages ignore the different types of degrees, for instance the math and science teachers are required to have degrees that would result in higher pay in the private sector. Also, those with postgraduate education are included in that average, and the average pay for those with masters degrees is $30k more per year than the average pay for teachers.

Suffice to say I think the data presented is often skewed, and there's such a huge focus on the benefits teachers get and the misinformation about their salaries. What Christie is doing is beyond the pale, some cuts were required but to simultaneously cut services for the poor and taxes for the rich is sickening. I have a very wealthy friend who is moving to CT. She's moving because the school system in Montclair is so bad.
We don't need to protect the rich, they aren't leaving the wealthy areas in any sort of worrying numbers.

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