As Christie pushes ruinous school plan, his chief quits | Moran

By Tom Moran | Star-Ledger Editorial Board
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on September 07, 2016

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Education Commissioner David Hespe is leaving the Christie administration in a few weeks, no doubt disgusted by the governor's ruinous plan to cut aid to urban districts by more than half.

Hespe has been silent on the plan, even when asked for his view by legislators, educators and journalists. And that tells you all you need to know: If he supported it, why wouldn't he say so?

"I don't think my critiquing anyone else's plan would be particularly helpful," he says.

Christie, with just one more budget to propose, is picking the biggest fight of his career over school funding. He says now that every child should get precisely the same amount of state aid, whether that child lives in public housing in Newark or a $5 million home in Morris County.

The governor would take no account of a community's ability to pay for its own schools. And he would ignore the added challenges that urban districts face, like poverty, broken families, and the huge numbers of immigrants who often don't speak English and may lack any formal education. In an Orwellian twist, he calls it his "fairness" plan.

The result would be to cut state aid to Newark by 63 percent. Cities like Camden, Elizabeth, and Paterson would take crippling cuts as well. Massive teachers layoffs would be inevitable.

No state in the country puts on blinders like this. And there is no way the New Jersey courts would allow it. Those activist judges in their black robes are hung up, it seems, on this notion that every child should have a chance to get a decent education.

The cynicism of the governor's stunt is breathtaking. He is pitching this as an answer to high property taxes in the suburbs, holding a series of public meetings where he drums up resentment against the urban poor and minorities as the cause of the problem. So far, three months after first pitching this, he has not had the nerve to hold a single public hearing in a city.

The real pity is that Christie did well on education issues during his first term. He expanded the best charter schools, especially in Newark and Camden. He signed a tenure reform that revamped the way teachers are evaluated so that principals would spend more time in the classroom providing feedback.  He embraced the sensible Common Core curriculum, and the PARCC tests that help teachers identify each student's strengths and weaknesses. He froze funding, but he didn't grotesquely shortchange poor districts.

In his second term, he has become a kind of mini-Trump as he struggles to find his footing in national politics. He denounced Common Core on the presidential campaign trail, a craven flip-flop. He waffled on the PARCC tests. And now he has proposed this monstrous funding plan that would claim those successful charter schools as among the first victims.

This is radical stuff, until now embraced only by a handful of far-right legislators. And Hespe, it seems, wanted no part of it.

Hespe proved to be adept at managing Christie's craven political moves. He shrugged off the governor's flip on Common Core, making symbolic changes to help Christie save face without conceding anything important. He listened to the protests against the PARCC tests, but kept his course and managed to increase participation rates. And he has made progress improving teacher evaluations. By most accounts he was an effective technocrat who got high marks for listening to other points of view.

After 30 months on the job, he says he's exhausted. My guess is that he's also disgusted. And who can blame him?

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