In the latest battle between New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the state’s teachers union, the governor has asked the state’s highest court to use a landmark 1985 decision to upend teacher- tenure protections in 31 low-income school districts around the state.
Asserting that despite $100 billion in additional state aid, little progress has been made in those districts, the administration is asking the court to release the state from a previously ordered school-funding formula and let the Commissioner of Education override state teacher-tenure protections and collective negotiation agreements to increase teacher effectiveness in the 31 districts.
In 1985, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in the case of Abbott v. Burke that the quality of the education that kids in the state’s poorest districts were receiving violated the state constitution’s guarantee of a “thorough and efficient system of education” for all New Jersey children. The state was eventually forced to adopt a school-aid formula that alleviated that funding gaps between the state’s rich and poor districts.
In a court filing on Thursday that has some echoes of California’s Vergara case, the Christie administration asserted that those additional funds had done little to improve the state of public education in the state’s poorest communities and that changes to teacher policies were needed to improve those districts.
"[A]lthough the State has provided nearly $100 Billion in State funding to the SDA Districts since 1985, there has not been sufficient improvement in student performance,” the administration argued.
The administration goes on to assert that the state’s Tenure Act and provisions of collective bargaining agreements “effectively limit the Districts’ freedom to provide the students with the most qualified teachers, to introduce new programs or to increase total teacher/student contact hours, which would be in the best interest of the school children.”
In a statement responding to the court filing, the president of the state’s teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, called the move a “frivolous legal challenge” by Christie to distract from the upcoming trials surrounding the Bridgegate scandal.
“He knows his legal argument does not hold water,” said NJEA president Wendell Steinhauer. “He tried this strategy before in a 2010 challenge to the Abbott decision and it was rejected by the court. This is not a legal strategy. It’s a political ploy.”
The move comes after a particularly tumultuous time in the relationship between the governor’s office and the teachers union. The governor has spent much of the summer pursuing a new funding formula that would equalize state aid to districts. Union leaders and Democrats have complained that the plan would likely lead to school closures and teacher layoffs in poor districts, reported The Record.
At a press conference last week, Christie, long known for his antagonistic relationship with educators, likened the union to the Corleones, the fictional Mafia family from the movie, “The Godfather.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.