Governor Chris Christie’s fourth State of the State address once again included a strong emphasis on students and schools. Among the Governor’s proposals was a call for an extended day and school year – although details on the proposal remained elusive during the January 14 address.
Calling the current school calendar “antiquated both educationally and culturally,” Christie stated that “Life in 2014 demands something more for our students. It is time to lengthen both the school day and school year in New Jersey.” The Governor indicated that his Commissioner will present a proposal “shortly” to the Legislature, calling the proposal a “key step to improve student outcomes and boost our competitiveness.”
“We look forward to more details from the Governor and his Administration about the proposal.” Executive Director Patricia Wright stated. “There are several important considerations, including facility, curricular, human resource and funding items, that need to be explored as the proposal moves forward.”
“Discussions should include all stakeholders, including educators and parents.” Wright added. “And take into account current research on student learning.”
Acknowledging the Gains
Beyond this bold proposal, however, the address included a heavy emphasis on students and schools – with particular focus on two of the State operated districts – Newark and Camden..
The Governor began with acknowledgement of the progress made over the last four years, including an increase in the graduation rate, to 87.5 percent.
“Student achievement is strong in many of our public schools, and New Jersey’s students are among the country’s greatest achievers.” Christie stated.
He also cited changes to the tenure law, an increase in the number of charter schools, and the adoption of the Urban Hope Act as key areas of reform.
Getting More Bang for the Buck
Nonetheless, the Governor argued that in too many instances “our children are not receiving the education they deserve. While many public schools are strong, too many are still failing. While the vast majority of teachers are performing well, some are underperforming – and they should be removed from the classroom.”
He also noted the investment the State has made in public education – stating that, “New Jersey spends over $25 billion a year, all told. Our per pupil expenditure is the highest in the nation at over $17,000 per year.”
Christie showcased the work of both Cami Anderson, the current state-appointed Superintendent in Newarkas well as Paymon Rouhanifard, the newly appointed State-appointee in Camden. Claiming that where bold action was necessary, they have taken it, the Governor focused in on parent and community engagement, labor negotiation with the teacher’s union of Newark in particular (which includes a merit-pay component), traditional public and charter collaboration, and even principal empowerment (Anderson hired 50 principals within the last year with enhanced staffing authority according to several news reports).
A Moral Obligation
The Governor also reissued his “commitment to ensuring the opportunity for an excellent education to every child in New Jersey, regardless of the zip code,” calling it a “moral obligation” that if not met, “compromise the life of a child and hurt the quality of life in our communities.”
Pension Payment in Question?
Unfortunately the Governor may also have called into question future pension payment. Indicating that New Jersey cannot afford to increase education funding, among other goals, because of pension and debt service costs, he indicated that for Fiscal Year 2015 Budget, the increase in pension and debt service costs could amount to as much as nearly $1 billion.
“That’s nearly $1 billion we can’t spend on education. That we can’t invest in infrastructure improvement. That we can’t use to put more cops on the street. That won’t be available to improve access to health care.” Christie stated.
Stating that the Legislature needed to “engage in an attitude of choice,” the Governor called for a reduction in “soaring pension and debt service costs.” He indicated that a refusal to choose would lead to a weaker New Jersey with a middle class burdened by even higher taxes and an abandonment of duty.
NJPSA will keep you posted as more details become available on both the extended school day/year proposal as well as any school or pension funding discussions.