Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Chris Christie's Charter School Gold Rush

The shine is off of Chris Christie for sure.

Once the golden boy of the Republican Party, the New Jersey governor failed to poll out of the single digits in the primaries, and has been the subject or scorn and ridicule since returning to the Garden State defeated and opportunistically endorsing Donald Drumpf for President. There is speculation that he could be rewarded by being selected to be Drumpf's VP.  Anything to stay relevant, I guess 

Christie's favorability rating at home hit an all time low after the Drumpf endorsement, and residents expressed sincere concern for the future of the state under his leadership.
Prior to endorsing Drumpf, Christie held a 33 percent approval rating. In the days after his surprise announcement last week, that rating dropped to 27 percent. 
The survey also found a record low number of New Jerseyans, 29 percent, are confident the state is headed down the right track. Fifty-nine percent expressed concern the state is "headed off the rails," according to the poll.  
The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll also asked respondents to describe the Governor in one word. Here is the word cloud created based on those answers.

Not a big surprise that Christie is viewed as an arrogant bully, or that very few positive sentiments rise to the surface. This just confirms that Christie is persona non grata in the state, and we're all just biding our time until he's gone.

Our state held hostage by an arrogant bully. 

So who would want to welcome Christie into their midst? Why, the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, of course!

I could barely stifle the laughter when I read the glowing email I received from NJCSA this morning:
We are delighted to welcome Governor Chris Christie as the Keynote Speaker for the 8th Annual New Jersey Charter Schools Conference on Thursday, May 26 at 1 PM at Bally's Atlantic City.
Governor Chris Christie, Keynote Speaker
Since taking office in 2010, Governor Christie has made education reform a top priority of his Administration, working to turn around failing schools, improve accountability, create a fair and meaningful evaluation system for teachers and principals and increase school choice in the state’s worst performing districts. Governor Christie provided billions of dollars in additional state aid for New Jersey schools, setting a historic high for school funding for five consecutive years.
Leaving all of the inaccuracies in this statement aside for the moment, why would the NJCSA be "delighted" to welcome a governor who has become so toxic to, well, just about everybody?

Because Christie has promised to increase charter seats before he leaves office, and he's already shown he's prepared to make good on that promise. 

But who can actually create those additional seats? Why, that would be Christie appointee David Hepse, the Commissioner of Education. That's right, the Commissioner of Education is the only "decider" in the state as to which charters are opened, closed, renewed, or expanded. So it's not a bad idea to make sure to heap a bunch of praise on the guy who hires or fires the guy responsible for your future growth. 

You see how this works, right?

And oh, did I mention that Commissioner of Education David Hespe was the NJCSA Keynote Speaker last year?

I just wake up and I say, "How can I help these dedicated folks do better?" And, by the way, whenever you think of a way you can do better, let me know. I'm there. I'll support you in whatever possible way I can.
If you need me, you know where to find me.
                                                                                               - David Hespe 3/31/2015 

The level of fawning is nothing short of shocking.

The governor announced in his 2016 State of the State address that he intended to increase charter seats by 9% before leaving office, thus creating an additional 4,000 seats.

What has naturally followed is increased numbers of applications. Currently 26 prospective charter applicants are hoping to get the nod from Commissioner Hespe. This comes right on the heels of 16 approved expansion requests and three new charter schools approved in late February.

NJCSA has not been shy about the fact that they have gotten the green light from the administration to open the flood gates, and it seems that they have sent that message loud and clear to current and prospective charter operators. 

Consider this from Red Bank.
Flanked by Trenton lobbyists and a pair of ex-superintendents-turned-consultants, charter Principal Meredith Pennotti said one key reason the school is seeking to expand is “the political climate” — specifically, Governor Chris Christie’s unabashed support of school choice.
“Did you hear him underscore charter schools?” in his state of the state address last week, Pennotti asked the audience. With two years left in his second term as governor, and perhaps less if his quest for the presidency leads to an early departure, “we’re taking advantage of that opportunity,” she said.
Christie mentioned charter schools 19 times in the speech, and called them “a resounding success for our state.”
“In two years, when he’s gone, this opportunity may not exist,” said New Jersey Charter Schools Association president Nicole Cole, “That’s a pretty critical piece. The time is now for your good schools to be looking at growing seats.”
And this from Pennsauken.

As Save Our Schools NJ so rightly pointed out:

Imagine if the Environmental Protection Agency began encouraging the coal power plants it regulates to expand and open in new locations?

Of course, the funding for those charter schools comes from local property taxes and local public schools - even though the local population has nothing to say about whether those schools may open in their community. That decision is entirely up to the Commissioner of Education - a political appointee of the Christie Administration.

There is no doubt that there is a concerted effort underway, by Christie, Hespe and NJCSA, to increase charter schools seats across the state. While I'm not surprised in the slightest that they're working together to create more charter seats, I would think they'd want to be a bit more subtle about it. 

It sure seems like a risky move to glorify Christie as the patron saint of your movement at a time when the vast majority of the state sees him for the arrogant bully he is. 


  1. The NJ Charter School Association invested in a new Executive Director last year - a professional lobbyist who is also a republican political operative. Seems to have paid off.

    Charter increasingly operate like corrupt corporation, lobbyists and all.

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