N.J. Governor-to-Be Phil Murphy Proposes Insolvable/Insolvent Math Problem to NJEA Members

Accept my apology, dear readers, for forgoing my annual rant about the NJEA Convention, which takes place in Atlantic City on Thursday and Friday in early November. A gift to NJEA from the State Legislature in the form of statute, the Convention truncates one of the few school weeks during a month when students are also off for 2 ½ days during Thanksgiving week; in addition, many districts have several half days for parent-teacher conferences. If you’re so inclined, here’s last year’s post. I note for the record that only one other state teacher union in the entire country (Minnesota) cancels school for its annual convention. Those that have them at all -- research points to benefits of on-site, school-specific professional development -- schedule them during school breaks or over the summer.

This year NJEA’s keynote speakers were a teacher who no longer teachers and Mark Weber, aka Jersey Jazzman, a teacher in a minority-free district in Warren County where 1.1% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Weber, an NJEA-funded darling, Rutgers’associate of Julia Sass Rubin (founder of the anti-standards/accountability/school choice suburban group called Save Our Schools-NJ), and doctoral student of school finance guru Bruce Baker, helpfully tweeted out the remarks of the signature event of the Convention, an appearance by N.J.’s next governor, Phil Murphy.

Murphy is a former Goldman Sachs multimillionaire who has never held elective office, He originally had competition from legislative and city leaders like Senate President Steve Sweeney and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop. But in a political coup, he neatly eliminated other Democratic aspiring governors (although today Democratic state Assemblyman John Wisniewski announced his campaign). For more on Murphy see here.

According to Weber, this is what Murphy, who sends his kids to private school (Rumson County Day and Exeter) told NJEA (with my snark in brackets):
“If there’s a big upside to state takeovers of school districts, I don’t see it.” [Has Murphy visited Camden lately?]
I’m for vocational education and against tracking. [Easy to say when your kids go to elite private schools.] 
SGO’s [Student Growth Objectives, used to gauge student growth and evaluate teacher effectiveness] are “insanity.”
“PARCC fails at many levels.” [Actually, PARCC provides realistic assessments of student proficiency, unlike N.J.’s artificially-inflated old assessments.] I’ll “scrap PARCC on Day 1” and “scrap its use as a graduation requirement and its use in teacher evaluations.” [Someone tell him that the Governor can’t “scrap” PARCC or its uses, any more than Donald Trump can scrap the Common Core or Obamacare with a stroke of a pen.]
I “will not renew Chapter 78” because it is “discouraging prospective teachers.” [Again, Chapter 78, N.J.’s 2011 teacher tenure and health care premium contributions reform bill, can only be set aside by an act of the Legislature. Also, Murphy might want to discuss his distaste for Chapter 78 with local school boards that are staying solvent only through teachers’ increased contributions.]
Murphy has also called for a “pause” in authorizing new charter schools, remarkably similar to NJEA’s desire for a moratorium. (Newark Inc. reported, however, that he voted against the NAACP endorsement of a charter school moratorium.)

In remarks outside of the NJEA Convention -- hat tip to Jeff Bennett at “New Jersey Education Aid,” who transcribed part of an interview by Larry Mendte of “Jersey Matters” with the prospective governor -- Murphy also proposes to provide free full-day pre-kindergarten to an additional 45,000 children at a cost of $607.5 million a year (N.J. state-run preschool costs $13,500 per child per year) and to fully fund the state’s school funding formula known as SFRA, despite the fact that many districts are either over-funded or under-funded. Fully funding SFRA would cost taxpayers, already burdened by some of the highest property tax rates in the country, another $2 billion a year. He gave no suggestions for how the state would come up with the money. He also promises to “fully fund pensions”: if you’re keeping track, that another 3 billion a year.

This year N.J.’s total state school funding is $13.3 billion.  Murphy is promising NJEA members that he will find an extra $5.6 billion a year, effectively increasing the state’s contribution to districts by almost 40%. And that’s not including the hypothetical reversal of Chapter 78. Where is that money coming from? He doesn’t say.

Now, let’s be fair. NJEA did, after all, endorse Murphy exceptionally early, perhaps taking a cue from AFT’s early endorsement of Hillary Clinton. (We know how that turned out.) But surely Murphy, a highly-respected hedge fund manager and diplomat, as well as NJEA officials, many of whom are former teachers, can do the math.

Will the last person to leave New Jersey please turn out the lights?

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