Thursday, July 17, 2014

Chris Christie's Hypocritical Stance on School Choice

On Monday, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey issued an executive order that delayed his much ballyhooed teacher evaluation program – AchieveNJ. I wrote about the impact of that action earlier this week here. Along with the executive order, Christie’s office issued a press release that I found to be a particularly entertaining exercise in putting a positive spin on a clear loss.

Here is the first line of that press release: “This Administration is committed to the educational success of every child, no matter the zip code, said Governor Christie.” The zip code line must be in the public relations manual that all education reformers are required to adhere to; we hear it so often. It makes me wonder if Christie should hire a Commissioner of Hypocrisy. Since he has been in office, Christie has worked diligently to be sure that New Jersey’s poor and near poor families cannot change their zip code.

Christie tried to abolish the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) which attempts to insure that there is housing for lower income citizens in all towns and municipalities in New Jersey. The New Jersey Supreme Court stopped him. Forced to write new rules for COAH, the Governor’s representatives on the Council responded with a woefully inadequate plan that David Fisher of the New Jersey Builders Association said was rife with, “ineffective regulations that frustrate the constitutional obligation to assist in providing desperately needed affordable housing.” And Stacy Berger of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey said, “This council proposed rules that will result in many, many fewer homes for hard-working New Jerseyans who make our economy and our community hum.”

What these weak affordable housing regulations do is effectively bar economic diversity in New Jersey towns and townships. More economic diversity would do more for educational opportunity for working poor families in New Jersey than any of the corporate education reformer solutions that Christie champions. Blocking citizen’s access to affordable housing is far worse than blocking traffic on the George Washington Bridge.

This is how the Fair Share Housing Center puts it:

We believe that families of every income level and every background, especially low-income people of color, should have the choice to live in any community and any school district, and should not be excluded by discriminatory zoning policies. We believe that if a low-income person of color wants to live in a community with exemplary schools, or good access to jobs, or close to transit hubs, they should have the same opportunity to do so as people earning six figures.

This is what Fair Share believes and it is also what the law demands, which is why the Christie administration has been at loggerheads with the courts on this issue.

Further down in Governor’s press release, Christie’s Inter-district Public School Choice program is lauded for “increasing educational opportunities for students with the option of attending a public school outside the district of residence and without cost to parents.” Taken together with his efforts to block affordable housing, the Christie administration is saying it will allow you to send your child outside of your home district; just don’t ask to have affordable housing so you can actually move to where you would like to send your child to school.

So there you have the hypocrisy of the Christie administration. The Governor is more than happy to borrow from the corporate education reformers playbook and tell poor parents in urban areas that the problems in education are bad teachers, bad schools and a lack of choice. So we get attacks on teachers and their unions, proliferating charter schools of dubious quality, and the inter-district transporting of children, all in the name of choice.

When it comes to providing real choice for New Jersey families through fair housing, however, Christie says to the working poor of New Jersey, “No choice for you.” So Christie’s desire for choice does not extend to his leafy suburban backyard or to the backyards of his wealthy supporters. The message to New Jersey’s poor? Stay where you are and we will shuffle your kids around.

If Christie wants to keep talking about zip codes, how about a serious approach to assisting families to change their zip codes if they would like?