What’s wrong with this picture?
Last week Democratic heavyweight George Norcross got up on a stage with Gov. Chris Christie to announce that not only does he support the Opportunity Scholarship Act (the voucher bill) but also he’s opening charter schools Camden.
To add to the cognitive dissonance, the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) joined forces with the nepotistic Elizabeth school board to campaign against Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Union), the former chair of the NJ Democratic party — and the chief sponsor of the school voucher bill.
To muddy matters further, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex), a steadfast ally of the teachers union, looks likely to overcome her initial opposition to a health and pension benefits reform bill — despite protestations from NJEA leaders. The legislation would require public employees, including teachers, to contribute substantially more than the current 1.5 percent of base pay toward pension and healthcare premiums. (The Assembly Budget Committee just announced it will hear the bill on Monday.)
These reversals of fortune for the beleaguered union are not mitigated by the oft-repeated statistic that the NJEA spent more than $6.6 million last year on TV spots, print ads and billboards. Now the NJEA is using members’ dues to tow banners over the Jersey Shore stamped “Millionaires for Christie.com,” while startled beach-goers wonder if the irony is in the medium or the message.
Note to the NJEA: It’s time for a strategy makeover.
First, a primer on party affiliations:
In both policy and politics, education reform is neither red nor blue. It’s purple.
Yet the NJEA’s lobbyists and spokespeople appear conditioned to defend the status quo with Pavlovian predictability. Thus, the NJEA finds itself perennially crouched in a defensive posture. That’s not particularly useful in pressing a specific agenda. If the NJEA wants to retain its renowned power at the Statehouse, it must start playing offense. It’s time to eschew anachronistic slogans for 21st century strategies. Here are three suggestions:
Think of it this way: the number of charter schools in NJ is only going up. The children in our poorest schools — full funding or not — need great teachers. Salary increases are not going to return to 4 percent or 5 percent per year. That leaves the NJEA’s leadership with two choices: one, fight the inevitable and remain on the defensive. Two, respond to this challenging environment by recreating your relevance. A little leadership in the educational arena goes a long way.
It sure beats flying banners over the shoreline.