In late January, the Murphy administration released the final transition reports, covering 14 broad areas of policy. Included among them was the “Report of the Education, Access, and Opportunity Transition Advisory Committee.” It provides an interesting contrast to the one submitted eight years ago by former Gov. Chris Christie’s Education Subcommittee. The most obvious difference is NJEA’s participation on the Murphy transition team.

NJEA President Marie Blistan served as co-chair of the committee. Joining her as co-chair were Gayl Shepard, former president of the Montclair Education Association; Donna Chiera, president of the American Federation of Teachers-NJ (AFT-NJ); Mark Biedron, the immediate past president of the State Board of Education; Rev. Dr. William Howard Jr, former chair of the Rutgers University Board of Governors; Dr. Christopher Irving, former president of the Paterson Board of Education; and Dr. Jianping Wang, the president of Mercer County Community College.

Gov. Murphy and his administration will value diversity and have a seat at the table for all education stakeholders, including NJEA members at the state, county and local levels. There will surely be differences of opinion over the next four years between NJEA members and  Gov. Murphy, but those differences will be debated in a context of mutual respect and honesty—a welcome change from the last eight years.

The 53-member committee included an NJREA member, Terry Trigg-Scales, and the executive director of the NJEA-initiated Center for Teaching and Learning, Dr. Robert Goodman, who has continued his membership in NJEA. Compare this to Chris Christie’s transition team, which included only one classroom teacher (an NJEA member), but it had no statewide representatives from NJEA and not a single member of AFT-NJ at the Pre-K to 12 level. The difference in these transition teams is reflected in the reports they produced.

The very first priority listed in the K-12 Education section of Gov. Phil Murphy’s team’s report is “Fully Fund SFRA.” It noted that since its enactment in 2008, the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) has not been properly implemented and has been underfunded over those years by $9 billion. It calls for an analysis of the current funding formula and recommendations for improvements that alleviate property tax burdens. The Christie transition team, by contrast, wasted no time looking for ways to reduce spending on Pre-K to 12 education, suggesting cuts in the second paragraph of its report.

Several areas listed as priorities in the Murphy transition team report directly affect the delivery of instruction: developing standards for the whole child, including social-emotional learning; a high-quality science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum; an expansion and upgrade in vocational-technical education; increased funding for early childhood education. None of these were listed as early priorities in Christie’s report. In fact, the previous governor called for a moratorium on an increase in preschool funding.

Quite notable is the position of the Murphy transition team on retaining and attracting excellent teachers. It reads, “Although New Jersey’s teachers largely earn more than the national average, they are taking home less now than they did in 2010 and have to contend with our state’s increasingly high costs of living. Teachers have felt marginalized as governments have bypassed the collective bargaining process.” Christie’s 2010 transition report, on the other hand, called for a freeze in the salaries of all public employees, including school employees.

“Although New Jersey’s teachers largely earn more than the national average, they are taking home less now than they did in 2010 and have to contend with our state’s increasingly high costs of living. Teachers have felt marginalized as governments have bypassed the collective bargaining process.”

The Murphy transition report prioritizes a reassessment of the role of standardized testing in New Jersey. It reads, “This administration should reconsider the state’s reliance on high-stakes testing and reduce the amount of class time spent on testing and test preparation. It further calls on the state to reduce the role of standardized tests in teacher evaluations and to decouple PARCC from high school graduation requirements.” The Christie report relied heavily on the use of testing for teacher evaluation and student and school assessment, indicating scant concern about the impact of high-stakes standardized tests on teaching and learning.

The Murphy transition report calls on the administration to consider a pause in the creation of new charter schools and review the impact of charter schools on education in New Jersey. The Christie report prescribed the expansion of charter schools as one of its top priorities.

At the higher education level, the Murphy transition report’s first priority is college affordability and recommends that the administration start New Jersey on the path toward offering free community college. In the meantime, it calls on the state to strengthen the Tuition Aid Grant and Educational Opportunity Fund programs. It also calls on the state to alleviate student debt burdens. In fairness, the Christie report also raised concerns about the cost of attending college in New Jersey, but by the end of Christie’s administration, a college education in New Jersey continued to become increasingly unaffordable for students.

The composition of the team that wrote the “Report of the Education, Access, and Opportunity Transition Advisory Committee” and the content of the report itself demonstrate that Gov. Murphy and his administration will value diversity and have a seat at the table for all education stakeholders, including NJEA members at the state, county and local levels. There will surely be differences of opinion over the next four years between NJEA members and Gov. Murphy, but those differences will be debated in a context of mutual respect and honesty—a welcome change from the last eight years.

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