Christie takes on the teachers’ union

Taking on the teachers’ union has made New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie a political star, writes Matt Bai in the New York Times Magazine.

“The argument you heard most vociferously from the teachers’ union,” Christie says, “was that this was the greatest assault on public education in the history of New Jersey.” Here the fleshy governor lumbers a few steps toward the audience and lowers his voice for effect. “Now, do you really think that your child is now stressed out and unable to learn because they know that their poor teacher has to pay 1½ percent of their salary for their health care benefits? Have any of your children come home — any of them — and said, ‘Mom.’ ” Pause. “ ‘Dad.’ ” Another pause. “ ‘Please. Stop the madness.’ ”

By this point the audience is starting to titter, but Christie remains steadfastly somber in his role as the beseeching student. “ ‘Just pay for my teacher’s health benefits,’ ” he pleads, “ ‘and I’ll get A’s, I swear. But I just cannot take the stress that’s being presented by a 1½ percent contribution to health benefits.’ ” As the crowd breaks into appreciative guffaws, Christie waits a theatrical moment, then slams his point home. “Now, you’re all laughing, right?” he says. “But this is the crap I have to hear.”

“Christie seems to be winning at every turn” in his fight with the New Jersey Education Association, Bai writes.

New Jersey voters reject school budgets

In a bitter election with high voter turnout, New Jersey voters rejected school budgets in 260 of 479 districts, pushing back on spending and property taxes. The Star-Ledger reports:

In the proposed state budget he unveiled last month, Gov. Chris Christie slashed $820 million in aid to school districts and urged voters to defeat budgets if teachers in their schools did not agree to one-year wage freezes. The salvo ignited a heated debate with the state’s largest teachers union.

Christie said the cuts were necessary to help plug an $11 billion state budget gap.

In response to the drop in state funding, 80 percent of districts had hoped to raise taxes to prevent layoffs, program cuts or salary freezes.  The state teachers union said voters were rejecting property tax increases, not endorsing Christie’s call for salary freezes.

In towns where budgets failed, the local governing body will decide on a school spending plan.

Statewide, school spending increased by $1,0003 per student last year, an average of 8 percent, reports New Jersey’s education department.

Average per child comparative costs in K-12 districts rose to $13,601 during the 2008-09 school year, compared to $12,598 the prior year, and $11,939 in 2006-07.

New Jersey is one of the highest spending states, but the reliance on property taxes means that some districts spend a lot more than others.