Friday, September 6, 2013

UPDATED! Chris Christie, Hell Bent On Destroying Public Education, Courts The Voucher Vote

Is anyone actually surprised that Governor Christie is chomping at the bit to ram vouchers through the legislature in the lame-duck session after the election? (Which he arrogantly to assumes he will win...)
“It will be after the election, I don’t see it happening before then,” he said. “Miracles happen in lame-duck after elections, so let’s see. We’ll certainly be focused on it.”
If you ask me, this is a direct message to voucher enthusiasts that have endorsed Christie because he has promised them he will keep fighting for the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA). If he walks away from vouchers now, he would undoubtedly lose some key groups that have endorsed him.

Let's look at two, the Lakewood Vaad and the Latino Leadership Alliance.

Lakewood Vaad

Just to clarify what the Vaad is, this is from Wikipedia. (I don't usually use Wikipedia as a source, but the description here is very succinct.)
The Lakewood Vaad (Council) is a voluntary organization of leaders and businessmen, who represent a large amount of the Orthodox Jewish community in Lakewood, New Jersey in public policy issues. Lakewood has a large Orthodox Jewish population and is home to the largest Talmudic Academy in the United States, Beth Medrash Govoha. The community maintains a large and unified voting block. The Vaad endorses candidates for office, and communicates the needs of the community to elected officials.
Watch this short video of Christie accepting the endorsement of the Lakewood Vaad.
And there will be those who will attempt to and have stood in our way in trying to bring the Opportunity Scholarship Act into law. I can tell you this, that I will continue to fight everyday that you give me the honor and privilege of being your Governor to make sure that something that makes as much sense as the Opportunity Scholarship Act is not stopped by the special interests.
Bruce Baker has done amazing work demonstrating that the bulk of OSA funds will not go to kids "trapped in failing public schools," they will go to kids in Lakewood who already attend religious private schools.
In other words, all of the other locations combined do not have the sum total of low income private school enrolled children that Lakewood has. Lakewood would likely be the epicenter of NJOSA scholarship distribution. I noted in my first post on this topic that if the average scholarship amounts were as proposed, the Lakewood Yeshiva schools would stand to take in as much as $67 million per year in these indirect taxpayer subsidies.
Christie accepting the Vaad's endorsement
So a LOT of money is going to pour into Lakewood if the OSA is passed, which is a darn good reason for the Vaad to support Christie in 2013 after they dissed him in 2009 and backed Corzine. But it does fly in the face of Christie's constant assertions that the OSA is for all those trapped inner-city kids.  He makes his real motivation known only when talking to the Lakewood community.  
“The community here in Lakewood cares so much about issues that I care about too,” Christie said. “And I know, here in Lakewood, nothing is more important for the families that moved here and that is the education of your children. We need to make sure, as we move forward, that [a child’s] education is of the parent’s choice."
And the Vaad is not shy about the fact that they will throw their weight behind a candidate
based solely on this issue. Check out their endorsement of Corey Booker's Senate campaign.
Two of the candidates, Frank Pallone and Cory Booker are well known to us and long time friends. Pallone has loyally worked on our behalf in Congress for many years, helping yechidim and the klal with energy and dedication. Booker has been active in statewide politics for many years, and has been a great advocate for our community and matters of great importance to us.
This presents a difficult choice for us as to who deserves our backing.
While they both are deserving, we heartily endorse Cory Booker for one reason – his positions on vouchers. There is no stronger advocate in NJ for private school vouchers (including our Mosdos) than Cory Booker.
Our Mosdos and families are in desperate need of relief – and Cory Booker – as Mayor of the City of Newark, has bucked the Democratic party and has been a tireless advocate for vouchers. His election to the US Senate would be the first time there is a powerful Democrat pushing hard for vouchers.(emphasis mine)
Well, at least that kind of honesty is refreshing.  So why can't Christie just be honest when he speaks publicly about the OSA? Why doesn't he let everybody know that he has a deal with the powers that be in Lakewood, and he's already promised them a religious education on the public dime?  Afterall, isn't he the "tell-it-like-it-is" Governor?

Stop hiding behind the "kids trapped in failing schools" rhetoric. Come right on out and tell the good people of NJ that you think tax dollars should pay for religious education!

He doesn't say it, because he knows the general public will hate it. They sure didn't like it when he gave $10.6 million tax dollars to Beth Medrash Govoha, which is run by the leaders of the Vaad. Read some of the comments on that article.  It's a bloodbath for Christie.  And the ACLU is suing over the use of tax payer money to fund a religious institution.
In the ACLU’s opinion, the government funding is outright illegal, not just improper. “This kind of funding clearly violates the separation of church and state,” Udi Ofer, executive director of the group’s New Jersey chapter, explained. “That is not the role for taxpayer money. They could do it on their own dime but they cannot do it on the public dime.” A spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie did not return multiple inquiries seeking a comment. (emphasis mine)
Again, where is our straight-shootin' Governor on this one? Why won't his administration answer questions about why tax payer money is going to a Yeshiva? I'd love to hear someone ask him directly, in front of a camera, if it's a coincidence that he got the Vaad endorsement in March and gave the Yeshiva, run by a leader of the Vaad, $10.6 million in May.

Latino Leadership Alliance

Martin Perez and his wife with Christie
at the endorsement
And then there's the Latino Leadership Alliance (LLA).  This one is a bit more straightforward, but very similar dynamics. Christie won over a voucher loving group that went for the Democrat in the last election, and his education agenda, and support of the OSA specifically, was one of the deciding factors in the endorsement. Well, at least that was what was said in public anyway...
And, just earlier this week, in his budget address, the Governor again demonstrated his commitment to the fight for educational justice, by dedicating funds for an Opportunity Scholarship Pilot Project, while also providing more state aid for education than any previous administration.  
Watch this NJTV segment on the endorsement which highlights LLA President Martin Perez's admiration for Governor Christie's ed reform agenda.  
Perez: Chris Christie has shown us that he is committed to reforming education in New Jersey and this is the number one issue for the Latinos in this state. The school system has failed constantly in the urban areas, and we are losing a generation of Latino children.
Christie: Martin talked about education. There is nothing more important to me than changing the educational system in this state to make sure that every child, no matter their zip code, no matter the economic status of their parents, has a chance to be successful in this country, and that's through education. 
I guess Mr. Perez doesn't read Bruce Baker, and hasn't figured out that Latino kids are not likely to be the main recipients if the OSA ever becomes law. Unsurprisingly, the LLA endorsement didn't really sit well with a lot of the Latino community.
It is shameful that a few leaders of LLANJ have decided to misrepresent the interests of the Latino community for the sake of their own political agenda. Since LLANJ will not speak on behalf of its members, it is imperative for the Latino community to speak out on behalf of itself,” stated Negron. (emphasis mine)
Now, I'm not saying that Mr. Perez has his own political agenda, but just two short months before LLA's very early February endorsement of Governor Christie, Mr. Perez was appointed by Governor Christie to the Rutgers Board of Governors. And the appointment is no small matter. 

It came after two years of controversy, with Perez's appointment blocked by senatorial courtesy, and Governor Christie side-stepping courtesy to make the appointment.  And Senate President Sweeney is now suing to have Perez removed.

Clearly, there is A LOT behind the LLA endorsement, but nonetheless, it's clear that Christie has promised yet another large voting block that he will come through on vouchers. This despite the fact that a recent Gallop poll showed that an historic 70% of Americans are opposed to them.

Let's be clear.

The Governor is handing out some pretty big favors to get the endorsement of groups that support his voucher agenda.  But he can't and won't be straight with the people of New Jersey about why he supports vouchers in Lakewood. If he's re-elected and gets the OSA through lame-duck, a lot of money is going to change hands in Lakewood, and a lot of tax dollars are going to subsidize the private education of one religious group that managed to get access to the Governor and brought him a lot of votes.

The LLA endorsement gives Christie the "I'm doing it for the kids trapped in failing schools" cover he needs and helps him sell the idea of vouchers to the remaining 30% of the American public that hasn't yet figured out that they don't actually change outcomes for kids and only serve to pull money out of an already hemorrhaging public education system.

It really does feel like Christie is just hell bent on destroying public education, doesn't it?
This was at 10am on 9/5. Check back and see what the numbers are now.
Now's a really good time to share Barbara Buono's education plan with a friend, don't you think?


I seriously can not believe I forgot to include this part of the story.  See that picture up above of Perez, his wife and Christie? Well, I forgot to mention that his wife is a serious player in the voucher wars.  That's Patricia Bombelyn.  She's not just Perez's wife, she is also his law partner, and she ALSO just happens to be the lawyer who filed a complaint on behalf of Camden students with Commissioner Cerf "demanding that they be freed from attending Camden schools and instead receive payments to attend schools of their choice, public or private." 
But the case, known as Vargas v. Camden Board of Education, involves far bigger questions that could affect far more students, bring in some statewide players, and invoke some hard-fought debates over what exactly is a “thorough and efficient” education as required by the state’s constitution.

A Familiar Complaint

An earlier version of the complaint -- Crawford v. Davy -- was ultimately dismissed by the state appellate court in 2009, although it left an opening for the case to be argued anew.
The prior case involved 25 districts, many of them urban school systems like Camden that fall under the Abbott v. Burke rulings.
Following the defeat of Crawford, some of the same advocates who led that case returned with the Vargas complaint, narrowing it to Camden schools at a time when the district is in turmoil and subject to intense scrutiny by the Christie administration.
One of those advocates is Patricia Bombelyn, the New Brunswick attorney who led the Crawford case and has been closely aligned with Excellent Education for Everyone (E3), the decade-old group that has largely led the push for private school vouchers in the state. E3 is helping sponsor the challenge.
Her law partner, Martin Perez, was also in attendance. Perez heads up the Latino Leadership Alliance. (emphasis mine)
So clearly, Bombelyn is not your run of the mill voucher fan. She is an advocate willing to take Christie's fight for vouchers to the courts when he fails in the legislature. And take note, Bombelyn and Perez were not in this fight alone, they had the backing and support of E3, one of the biggest voucher pushing organizations in the state, and another big supporter of the Governor's ed reform agenda. Check out this statement from E3 President Christy Davis Jackson in support of OSA and Governor Christie.
E3 has been working closely with our New Jersey School Choice and Education Reform Alliance (NJSCERA) to support Governor Chris Christie in promotion of school choice.  The Governor recently announced in his 2014 budget proposal his intention to launch a $2 million school choice pilot program.  With an initial focus on Camden, the pilot program will offer scholarships that low-income students in struggling schools will use to attend better performing public or private schools. This is a tremendous step forward in making school choice a reality in one of the bluest states in the country.
E3 is committed to leading the charge to support the Governor and the bipartisan group of NJ state officials behind him to secure pilot’s full implementation, which opponents have indicated they will spend whatever it takes to derail.
Securing a school choice program in Camden, challenging existing abysmal academic standards through the Vargas lawsuit against the Camden Board of Education, and conducting extensive community empowerment efforts to bring to bear the voices of those most afflicted by the failure of urban public education are three key aspects of E3’s comprehensive approach to urban education reform. (emphasis mine)
Anyone who keeps up on ed reform in New Jersey will know that Jackson is none other than the wife of Bishop Reginald Jackson, the Executive Director of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey, another huge player in the ed reform battle in this state.
Bishop Jackson endorsing Christie at a State
House news conference.
And surprise, surprise, Bishop Jackson has also endorsed the Governor's re-election, even though he claims to be a Democrat and endorsed Corzine is 2009.  
"I'm always for enhancing and improving school facilities," Jackson said today. But in the end, he made his endorsement based on the vouchers, and said he was disheartened by black Democrats whose districts house failing schools. (emphasis mine)
You can watch the endorsement here.  It's little more than another chance to give a shout out for the OSA. 

Here's Jersey Jazzman to fill you in on Bishop Jackson's sordid ed reform past.
Back in these earlier days of the Christie administration, the BMC was all about getting their member churches in on the charter school gravy train; Jackson himself bragged how he had enough juice to get charters approved for his flock:
     Rev. Reginald Jackson said he was celebrating after      all five charter schools proposed by the Black            Ministers Council were approved. They include an          East Orange school with single-gender classrooms and      a high school offering online instruction and            instrumental music classes for students in East          Orange, Irvington and Newark. [emphasis mine]
Reginald Jackson and his fellow apostles know what school "reform" is really all about: getting a taste of that lovely, lovely public school money. It doesn't matter if it comes from vouchers, or from starting a charter school; all that counts is that public funds roll into the hands of folks who are doing it all "for the kids."
Jackson's endorsement of Chris Christie last week was just about the most cynical, political move one could imagine. This governor has ignored the School Funding Reform Act for four years running - a piece of legislation that was specifically designed to move state school funds to the poorest districts where it is needed most. Children in these districts are going to schools that are literally crumbling while Christie has delayed critical projects, even as he hands out huge tax gifts to corporate and wealthy interests (tax breaks that haven't helped New Jersey's economic malaise in the slightest).
No governor has been worse for poor and minority children and their families than Chris Christie. But Reginald Jackson doesn't care, because school privatization is good for him and his family; that's the real reason for his endorsement. (emphasis Jersey Jazzman's!)
Well, there you have it. The voucher inspired endorsements the Governor has received have all come with a hefty price tag for New Jersey taxpayers.
$10.6 million to a Yeshiva run by the Lakewood Vaad... 
Appointment to the Rutgers Board of Governors for Martin Perez... 
Five charter schools for members of the Black Ministers Council, totaling God only knows how many millions of dollars...
Has any group endorsed Governor Christie and the OSA that HAS NOT received some type of highly controversial and/or wildly costly fringe benefit from this administration?  

The new Christie campaign ad slogan


  1. Thank you Darcie. I've been waiting for someone to write something about this.

  2. This whole voucher scheme is full of ironies. The elite public schools, ie: Mendham and the private Yeshivas are unlikely to accept voucher holding poor urban students. The rich and upper middle classes will use vouchers for religious and private education. The lower classes will only be recruited if their child did well on standardized tests. Those urban students who need the help will be frozen out.

    The religious Jews residing in Lakewood are de facto approving public funding for all religious schools including those who are an anathema to them.

    Let the game begin