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Fine Print: Christie Conditionally Vetoes Urban Hope Act Amendment

Governor likes law’s support of Camden’s “renaissance schools” but balks at early retirement benefits for teachers, staff

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What it is: Gov. Chris Christie yesterday released his conditional veto of Senate bill 2264, which would extend the Urban Hope Act, the 2012 law that has cleared the way for large charter-school networks to come into Camden.

What it means: Although the law has been a favorite of the governor’s, Christie red-lined a provision that would provide early retirement benefits to Camden teachers and other public-school employees who could be impacted by the charter-school influx. That specific provision, supported by teachers unions, helped win the bill passage. Now, it will be up to the Legislature to decide whether the bill will survive without that provision.

What he approved: Christie, in his letter to the Senate, was all for the changes to the Urban Hope Act itself, including extending it for a year and tightening provisions that critics have claimed violate the law. The law’s extension would open the way for more charter networks to make bids to become “renaissance schools,” which are a better-funded version of traditional charter schools but also require them to build new facilities.

Quote: “For too long, our education system has failed students in our distressed urban communities. As part of my administration’s efforts to address this problem and improve student achievement, in 2012, I signed into law the innovative Urban Hope Act. . . . This bill continues that progress.”

What he didn’t approve: The bill had included an expansive early retirement package that had irked some on both the Democratic and Republican sides.

Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-Camden, had said the package was only fair in the face of expected layoffs and other cuts in Camden. The New Jersey Education Association supported the early retirement piece, but nonetheless opposed the bill overall.

But Christie called the early retirement package hypocritical at a time when the state is grappling with a pension liability crisis.

Another quote: “The bill … may exacerbate the solvency of the pension system,’’ Christie’s statement said.

What’s next: The legislation now goes back to the Legislature to see if it will approve the measure without the provisions opposed by Christie. The Senate goes first, since the bill originated there. If approved, it will go back to Christie for his signature. If not, the bill dies. The original bill largely carried along party lines in both chambers.

Delayed release: The bill has been a politically sensitive one, given its implications for the state-run Camden public schools.

The veto message was released more than a week after the governor actually decided the bill’s fate on Aug. 1. And it was tacked onto the end of a press release announcing Christie’s signing of new bail-reform measure. What’s more, Christie’s action on the legislation was not included when news of nearly a dozen other vetoes was released the day before.

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