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Candidate Phil Murphy Tells It Like He Sees It at NJEA Convention

The Democratic frontrunner for his party’s nomination talks Trump and pension reform, undocumented immigrants, school funding, and PARCC — among other topics

Phil Murphy
Phil Murphy, Democratic hopeful for his party's gubernatorial nomination

In the days after the presidential election, the Democratic frontrunner for the nomination in the New Jersey gubernatorial race went before the state’s most powerful union to share his vision of what’s next for the state.

Phil Murphy, the former U.S. ambassador to Germany and Goldman Sachs executive, has been endorsed by the New Jersey Education Association, and the hour-long appearance earlier this month at the union’s annual convention in Atlantic City was largely a lovefest.

Sitting with union officers, Murphy used the occasion to discuss some of the pressing education issues facing the state, from pension reform to standardized testing to school funding:

On the NJEA endorsement

How honored and humbled I am by your endorsement. It’s more than you know. As my mother would say, you are known by the company you keep, and I’m keeping really good company right now … It means a lot to me to be on the same team as NJEA.

The place of unions going forward

If we don’t get the economy right, we don’t get New Jersey right, and if we don’t get education right, we don’t get the economy right. And it is the union door as well as the affordable-housing door through which we bought and our parents bought into the middle class. The respect for organized labor, the respect for collective bargaining, these are hallmarks of a strong society, of a strong economy.

On Donald Trump

I’ve been doing a lot of reading up on this guy, and I don’t like a lot of what he says about education. He’d talking about gutting the Department of Education. He’s a voucher guy, I’m not a voucher guy. He spouts anti-union rhetoric, not just at educators but to the whole waterfront, and this is going to be a test … In some respects, we have been called to this moment, all of us.

On the possibility of states being enlisted to crack down on immigrants

If he goes forward and the rhetoric of the campaign matches the actions as president and he asked state and local governments to deport immigrants or to re-implement stop-and-frisk policies, I will not abide by that as governor. Period. Full stop.

On the state’s pension-reform measures

Where do we begin? The big headline is many if not most of you are taking home less than you used to, right? That’s a fact of life. So we need to turn that back on its head.

It’s not just that, but it’s the rhetoric from Gov. Christie, all that he has done and said, but among other things, it has discouraged the next generation from following in your footsteps. That is bad for the home team, when we have the best public school system in the country.

If we believe genuinely that education is at the core of our future success as a state, we have to be investing in that core and not divesting from it and encouraging and attracting people to come in.

The notion of Chapter 78 [the pension reform law], it is not something I would have ever encouraged, signed and not something I’d ever renew. Period. Full stop.

The state needs to step up on the pension side and make a major statement. I support the constitutional amendment. I support quarterly payments. It won’t be easy, by the way, it will be tough, but we are a state that people no longer trust, and if you don’t trust us, why would you enter into any bargain with us.

On school funding

There is one (school-funding) formula that has been blessed by the state Supreme Court, and that’s where I’d go back to start. I know it needs to be tweaked and updated, but I’d go back to that. This governor has underfunded that formula to the tune of about $8 billion in his seven years in power, and whether by coincidence or by design, that is about the same amount of money he has put out in tax incentives to come or to keep them … He has clearly put corporations and their tax rates ahead of kids and their education. We need to turn that back on its head.

On PARCC

I’ll give you the one-sentence answer: scrap PARCC Day One, scrap PARCC as a high school graduation requirement, and I’d eliminate it as an element in teacher evaluation. I can give you the 10-paragraph answer, but that’s enough.

PARCC fails on many levels, and the notion of teaching to the test as opposed to the students needs has a whole Christmas tree of liabilities. It is time wasted, it is misguided.

On his ideal education commissioner

I’ve committed from Day 1 that I will take this body’s input seriously and deeply. You need to be at the table with me as we make the big decisions that need to be made, none of them more important than senior leadership positions. I see that as something we will do together.

There is a reason the surgeon general is a doctor. I value in education positions educators. Among other things in the state, we have people making decisions who don’t know what they are doing. Classroom experience will mean a lot to me. I am a huge believer in diversity, I have promised this at every step that the team we put on the field will look like the community we are serving.

On state control of schools in Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, and Camden

I am not a fan of state takeovers, period. You live it every day. What has it gotten us? If there is a big upside, you should tell me that, but I haven’t seen it.

Why can’t we be working as a partner with the state as opposed to being big-footed by the state, and it particularly galls me (it is happening) in all the cities that are minority-majority … It doesn’t look right to me that the ones with minority-majorities are constantly in the gun sights.

Undoing it, I have to say, has to be done carefully. There is a lot of money at stake, there are big governance issues. I’m not smart enough to know all the answers, but I don’t think you can just flip a light switch.

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