Oy, what a week. With only one day left before the deadline on Monday, the New Jersey State Senate has yet to approve the placement of an amendment on the November ballot that would require the state to make ramped-up public pension payments because, well, the math only works in an alternate universe where state revenues are sky-high and Christie signs off on a sales tax increase. Odds of the Senate making the deadline for inclusion in the ballot? Slim to none.
These odds offer comfort to representatives of organizations who came to the Statehouse to support Sweeney’s fiscally responsible stance. These groups, reports NJ Spotlight, include advocates for the disabled, senior citizens, “and others who rely on state-funded safety net programs," all who would suffer -- including, by the way, public schools facing inevitable cuts in state aid -- under a legislative decision to allow union lobbyists to potentially funnel vast amounts of scant state revenues to a pension system badly needed of reform.
Then NJEA, as well as two other public unions, threatened Senate President Steve Sweeney with extortion (Sweeney called it bribery): withholding campaign contributions to Democratic representatives unless he forces the proposal to the floor. From NJ Spotlight:
Sweeney (D-Gloucester) accused officials at the NJEA and a top police-union representative of bribery, saying they’ve threatened to hold back campaign contributions unless the Senate moves within the next few days to ensure a proposed constitutional amendment seeking voter approval of beefed-up state pension contributions makes it onto the ballot this fall.
In response to these threats, Politico reported yesterday, Sweeney sent two letters, one to U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman and the other to New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino. Sweeney wrote,
These threats clearly cross the line from lobbying to attempted bribery and conspiracy. Essentially, the NJEA has put members of the New Jersey State Senate in the position of tying specific official action to the receipt of a campaign contribution. Rather than engaging in public issue advocacy focused on the education of our children the NJEA has diminished advocacy to engage in unprecedented tactics designed to extort public officials into undertaking actions that would benefit the pocketbooks of its members.
Earlier in the week Christie held a press conference touting the increase in student proficiency levels in all grades on PARCC tests. He also noted that last year’s opt-out fever, funded generously by NJEA member dues, barely registered on the thermometer during this year’s assessment cycle. According to state data, 826,000 out of about 900,000 students (not all grades are tested) took the exams statewide. In all, an additional 65,500 students took the math test, and an additional 56,500 took the language arts test compared to last year’s numbers..
Technological glitches were also down substantially; parents, teachers, and students were assuaged by cutting the testing time in half; NJEA’s apocalyptic theories about these new Common Core-aligned tests were discredited.
Finally, on Wednesday, over the objections of NJEA’s and its opt-out partner Save Our Schools-NJ, the State Board of Education agreed that in 2021 PARCC will serve as the state’s high school diploma qualifying test. (Portfolios remain an option; until then, students can use PARCC -- they have to pass 10th grade reading and Algebra 1 -- or n assortment of other assessments like SAT’s, ACT’s, Accuplacer, or the military eligibility test.)
I don't take pleasure in a rough week for NJEA. I'm actually a union fan under certain circumstances: both my parents were proud members of New York City's teacher union UFT and worshipped Al Shanker. But NJEA leaders demean their members by roughhouse tactics and threats, by demanding that the Senate act irresponsibly and privilege one set of beneficiaries over others, and by clinging to old student assessments that disguised student under-performance and trying to sabotage new ones.. I hope next week is better for NJEA's front office, but that's more on its executives than on elected officials or the State Board of Education.