by NJEA President Barbara Keshishian
The choice could not be more stark: tax cuts for millionaires, or full school funding for New Jersey kids. Just a few weeks into his term Gov. Christie has staked out his position, slashing nearly $1.5 billion from state aid to schools and higher education.
At the same time, he has rejected out of hand any consideration of reinstating a very modest tax on the very wealthiest New Jersey residents, those making more than $400,000 per year. Last year, that surcharge generated nearly $1 billion in revenue for the state, enough to close much of the hole that his reckless budget opened in local school budgets.
Those two decisions – to slash funding for schools and to deliver generous tax cuts for the super wealthy – are so far out of the mainstream in New Jersey that the governor is attempting to distract New Jerseyans from the real issue. For the last several days, his distraction of choice has been to attack teachers and school employees, claiming that we – not his misguided priorities – are the reason that schools face deep and painful cuts that are going to hurt kids.
I understand politics, and I understand Gov. Christie’s tactics. If I were cutting funds from schools to provide tax cuts to the wealthy, I’d be looking for a distraction too. I wouldn’t want people focusing on the consequences for students and I wouldn’t want people asking why millionaires get a pass when everyone else is being asked to share in the sacrifice.
I wouldn’t want to answer for why teachers and staff will be laid off, why class sizes will go up, why academic programs will be cut, or why valuable extracurricular activities will be cut. I wouldn’t want to have to justify slamming doors in the faces of college students who just want to get the training and education they need to prepare for today’s jobs and help grow our economy back to health.
Gov. Christie is a very shrewd politician, and he’s using crafty political tactics to impose his agenda on the state. But when he turned his attack machine on teachers and school employees, he really stooped to a desperate new low, because our members are not the problem.
Our members are the people who work early in the morning and late into the night to make sure our schools are safe and clean and our students are getting a great education. They are the people who go into their own pockets to buy books and supplies that the district cannot afford. They are the ones who bring winter coats for the kids who don’t have them, and quietly provide a morning snack to students who don’t get breakfast at home.
So when the governor takes shot after shot at school employees, sneering that they don’t work very hard or proclaiming that they just don’t care about students, it’s an unfair and unwarranted attack on people who have dedicated their lives to educating the children of our state. The consequences for children and schools are too great. People of integrity must hold this governor accountable for his misguided priorities. The wealthy have their advocate in the Statehouse. Students and school employees deserve to have someone speaking for them too.
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