TRENTON, N.J. — The ability to overrule teacher contracts, not more money, is what New Jersey needs to improve its struggling poorer school districts, Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s administration argued to the state’s highest court Thursday.
The governor wants the Supreme Court to allow the state to override teacher contract rules in 31 mostly urban, poorer districts that the administration says “serve as impediments to a thorough and efficient education.”
Christie also wants the high court to freeze the current level of funding to the districts while he attempts to create a new formula that would split the state’s education money equally among all districts rather than giving poorer districts more money. An attempt by Christie to cut funding to those schools in 2010 was shot down by the high court.
“We’ve tried it for 30 years. What we know now is, more money alone does not translate into a better education,” Christie said in a statement. “It would be criminal to allow this situation to continue.”
Wendell Steinhauer, president of the New Jersey Education Association, called it a “frivolous legal challenge to New Jersey’s successful system of public schools.” He said the filing is a political ploy to deflect attention from the trial of two former Christie allies in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing case.
“Know this: when Chris Christie says he is looking out for the interests of children, he is lying,” Steinhauer said in a statement. “He’s never looked out for anyone’s interests but his own. He wants to consolidate all power in New Jersey with himself, cutting out the voices of local residents, professional educators, parents and others who know what it really takes to make public schools succeed.”
Beyond “last-in, first-out” tenure rules, Christie is also looking for more authority to change the length of the school day and year.
David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, said Christie’s court filing “is a blatant end-run around the Legislature and the established process for enacting changes to existing laws.” He said the nonprofit will seek to have the motion dismissed.
The court filing comes as Christie has been touring the state promoting his “Fairness Formula,” which he says would provide property tax relief in many districts by scrapping the state formula that goes back to a 1985 state Supreme Court ruling that requires a “thorough and efficient” education for the poor districts.
Under Christie’s plan, aid would be redistributed from the poorest districts to hundreds of other schools. New Jersey’s nearly 600 school districts would get $6,599 per pupil across the board.
Education advocates and Democrats who control the Legislature have criticized the plan as “unconstitutional” and “radical.” Christie has been visiting towns that would see their property taxes lowered by the change to tout the plan and some mayors from those towns have cheered the news.
This story has been clarified to show that the arguments would ask the New Jersey Supreme Court to freeze the amount of money going to the state’s struggling districts.