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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Losing Race to the Top School Funding

New York has gained, and New Jersey did not qualify for, federal Race to the Top funding. This means that New Jersey lost out on approximately $400 million.

The sniping between teachers' union New Jersey Education Association and Governor Christie has begun.

This brings to mind one of Christie's strategic flaws: confusing in his mind -- and perhaps intentionally confusing voters -- the distinct constituencies of teachers and NJEA union members.

All teachers are NJEA members. However, not all NJEA members are teachers. In fact, many NJEA members have long since retired.

This explains NJEA's opposition to rolling back tenure, to protect their longest serving members.
It should be apparent to younger teachers that their union treats them as third-class members. Not all dues-paying members are equal (although older members have paid more dues; it's as if the membership power was weighted according to tenure). Not surprisingly, the younger teachers are the ones bearing the brunt of the layoffs.

Does this make the NJEA evil? That depends on your perspective. One perspective is that the NJEA is fulfilling its duty to its membership, and that means, to many former teachers who are now retired.
Remember the foregoing paragraph the next time the NJEA tells you it is for teachers, kids and education. It isn't -- and shouldn't be.

The NJEA is for its members and only its members. Got it?

In the meantime, the Christie Administration has done virtually nothing regarding retiree benefits. Getting rid of double-dipping public officials is window dressing compared to the huge pension liability facing most states, and one which Christie did not fund this year -- just increasing the deficit in 2011.

Perhaps the master plan is to push the pension plans into insolvency, and bankruptcy. Perhaps its a way to defer the problem until a time when Christie has the strongest bargaining power. Strategically, that may make the most sense and maximize his chances of victory.

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer, member of the bar of both New York and New Jersey, and comments regularly on public policy and political/economic strategy. He can be reached at and at 917-696-2442.

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