In an hour-long rant on education policy Tuesday, New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, known for his combative relationship with teachers, referred to the state’s teachers’ union as “New Jersey’s version of the Corleones,” the Mafia family from “The Godfather,” before signing a bevy of education bills.
“As we begin this new school year, we’ve got to demand more, and I’m going to continue to demand more,” Christie said, according to a video of the speech. "[Teachers have] had a tough year, and they’re still complaining, and I’m still public enemy No. 1. I told you—badge of honor. Absolute badge of honor, because I’m fighting for kids.”
The comment received swift pushback from the state’s union and several legislators.
“The governor’s connotation of teachers as members of a fictional crime family does little to improve public education and only serves to cast a pall over our school system as children head back today,” said Democratic Assemblyman Troy Singleton in a statement. “Language is important, and children learn what they live. On a day when so many of us as parents are turning our most precious creations over to teachers, the governor once again crosses the line. It’s like he’s developed an acute case of ‘Trump-itis.’”
“Chris Christie’s obsessive focus on NJEA shows that we are making a difference,” said Wendell Steinhauer, president of the state’s teacher’s union, the New Jersey Education Association, according to the NorthJersey.com. “We are proud that our advocacy is so threatening to Chris Christie. Every time he resorts to name-calling and fact-free attacks, it just reaffirms our commitment to pursue our vision for great public schools for every child in New Jersey.”
During the press conference, held at Grover Cleveland Middle School in Elizabeth, N.J., Christie signed several K-12 and higher education bills into law, including one that sets aside money for private schools to receive security services, legislation that limits the suspension and expulsion of students in kindergarten through 2nd grade, and a bill that assures more substance abuse curriculum in the classroom, according to the Associated Press. He vetoed a bill that would have required school resource officers at schools, pointing out that it didn’t require officers to receive special training.
Last week, the state’s education department went in the opposite direction of most states and upped the amount that test scores factor into teachers evaluations to 30 percent from 10 percent.
Soon after, the state’s superintendent, David Hespe, announced his resignation. The state has had five superintendents in the last seven years.
Christie is shopping around a proposal to flatten the state’s funding formula, which now provides more money to poor districts than it does to wealthy districts. If passed, the state’s urban districts, which Christie says haven’t shown academic progress in recent years, could lose more than half of their funding from the state.
It was Chris Christie’s birthday Tuesday. He turned 54.
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.