Sunday, January 29, 2017

The NJEA is Against Reform Too

The NJEA Opposes Reform Too.

On this blog, I've repeatedly criticized Vincent Prieto for betraying his own  severely underaided constituents by blocking state aid reform.  I've criticized Phil Murphy repeatedly too for his deafening indifference to state aid reform.

Prieto's real reasons for opposing reform aren't public, but much evidence points to Prieto's relationship with Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.

Fulop, who showed his hostility to fair taxation through his strenuous and years-long opposition to a desperately-needed property tax reval for Jersey City, openly brags "I have significant clout with Speaker Prieto," repeatedly dismisses the significance of state aid reform and has confidently said "there's a long road" before any loss of Jersey City's state aid happens.

Insiders have reported to me that Fulop sees the potential of aid losses for Jersey City as intended to "hurt" hims personally and Jersey City as a whole.  As his opposition to a reval showed his lack of concern for working class parts of Jersey City, he has an even less of a concern for school children who live outside of his Gold Coast Abbott bubble.

Fulop's belief that aid reform is intended to hurt him personally is a strange belief for an informed New Jerseyan to have, but then again, Steve Fulop also said that the push for a property tax reval in Jersey City was "motivated purely by hatred for me," so Fulop's reasoning is more self-centered than a normal person's would be.

Not every Jersey City politician (and resident) is as bad as Steve Fulop is.  Jersey City's state senators, Sandra Cunningham and Brian Stack, appear to accept reform, but Steve Fulop and his clique certainly are absolutely indifferent to any taxpayer or student who lives outside of Jersey City.

I focus on Jersey City's role in opposition to state aid reform because it is so much more powerful than any other overaided district.  Other overaided districts are in the same legislative districts as underaided districts and so their opposition is neutralized.  For instance, Asbury Park is in the same legislative district as Freehold Boro and Red Bank Boro, and so Asbury Park's three representatives (Sen. Jennifer Beck, Asm. Eric Hougtaling and Asw. Joann Downey) are strongly pro-reform.  Pemberton has even publicly accepted state aid redistribution.

HOWEVER, Steve Fulop isn't the only special interest Vincent Prieto is listening to.

New Jersey's most powerful lobby, the NJEA, is also against reform and is making that opposition clearer.  The NJEA's opposition to aid reform goes back decades; the NJEA originally opposed the aid increases+redistribution that Jim Florio wanted as part of Abbott implementation in the early 1990s.

Since Steve Sweeney started fighting for reform, the NJEA has been conspicuously absent from the struggle for fairness, even though it would benefit tens of thousands of teachers in underaided districts.

The NJEA already called the concept of state aid redistribution "divisive" but at last week's legislative hearings on state aid, it put its power firmly against reform and for Vincent Prieto's nebulous plan for another committee.

NJEA Vice President Marie Blistan today called on members of the Joint Committee on Public Schools to commit to fully funding the state’s existing school funding formula, known as SFRA. She pointed out that since 2010, SFRA has been underfunded by approximately $1 billion per year by the Christie Administration. As a result, school funding across the state has been distorted, leading to what she called “gross inequities” among districts. 
Blistan also noted that it is incorrect to say that the SFRA formula itself is the problem, because it has been neglected for so long. She told legislators that talk about how to “fix” the formula is a diversion, because the real problem is that it’s never been funded. 
Blistan criticized two competing school funding proposals, one from Gov. Christie and one from Senate President Steve Sweeney that purport to address problems with school funding. Both proposals would reduce funding to hundreds of thousands of students. While Christie’s proposal is more draconian, Sweeney’s would reduce aid to approximately 715,000 students across the state. Both proposals would pit communities against each other and reduce funding too. Blistan was adamant that “choosing the lesser of two evils is not acceptable here.” She urged legislators to support a proposal championed by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto that would preserve the existing formula while also studying it to determine where it could be more effective.
What the NJEA should be doing is supporting reform, but also favoring an amendment to the tax cap law so that the BOEs of aid-losing districts have the automatic power to raise their tax levies without a referendum to make up for lost aid.   This provision is already in Steve Sweeney's state aid reform bill, but the NJEA ignores it.

As usual, the NJEA demanded that the state change charter school funding and impose a moratorium on charter school expansions and approvals.
Blistan also called on the legislators to recognize the need to address charter school issues in any examination of school funding, calling for much greater transparency in how they report their finances. “Charter schools were never intended to create a separate system,” Blistan told legislators. She reiterated NJEA’s call for a moratorium on charter school approvals and expansions until a full study of New Jersey’s charter school law and its effects over the last 20 years can be completed. She lauded Assemblywoman Mila Jasey and Senator Ron Rice for sponsoring a bill to put that moratorium in place.
The charter school notion is a pathetic distraction.  Most of New Jersey's underfunded districts are not affected by charter schools in any way or any substantial way.  A change in charter school funding would do nothing for Bound Brook, Manchester Regional, Dover etc.

Several NJ districts who are affected by charter schools, such as Hoboken, Vineland, Camden, and (of course) Jersey City, are OVERFUNDED.  

Clifton is Devastated by Underaiding and Huge Cost
Increase for the Passaic County Technical Institute.

The NJEA Doesn't Give a F*^k. 
As usual, the NJEA ignores the negative financial affects of any school choice model that doesn't include charters.

For instance, the NJEA is silent on the deleterious affects of the Passaic County Technical Institute's expansion for Passaic County districts.  The expansion of the PCTI has been a large growing expense for districts like Clifton, since the Clifton BOE must pay $18,000 per student for each Clifton student at the PCTI and Clifton had an additional 70 students enroll for 2016-17.  The cost increases for the PCTI were a very large cause of Clifton's devastating 2016 budget cuts in which 50 teachers were laid off from a district whose class sizes were already very large.  

The NJEA's opposition to aid reform is also a likely explanation for Phil Murphy's indifference and silence on state aid.

Murphy, who was UNANIMOUSLY endorsed by the 125 member NJEA politburo back in October, has been extremely evasive on whether or not he thinks redistribution is appropriate. and his official stance is that he will "fully fund the formula," despite the state's budget crisis and Murphy's own clear prioritization of pension, post-retirement medical, higher ed, PreK, EITC funding plus a slew of new tax credits.

VINCENT PRIETO's opposition to state aid reform is blatantly political and is a true betrayal of PRieto's own severely underaided constituents in District 32 (including North Bergen, East Newark, Fairview, Kearny, and Guttenberg).

Yet, Prieto's opposition is motivated by more than just his subservience to Steve Fulop.  The NJEA's opposition likely plays a part as well.

If you are not an NJEA member there is no hope in persuading the NJEA to be realistic.  If you don't live in Jersey City there's nothing you can do to influence Steve Fulop.  But if you have not already called Vincent Prieto's office about state aid reform and Assembly Education Chair Marlene Caride's office, please do so now!

Prieto's number is (201) 770-1303

Marlene Caride's number is 201- 943-0615

The Assembly Democrats' office number is (609) 847-3500

Call them as soon as you can!

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