After the two terms of Gov. Chris Christie, the 2017 gubernatorial election represents a vital opportunity for New Jersey to reinvest in public education, public workers and underfunded schools. NJEA members have finally started contemplating what public education in New Jersey could be, and how a governor rightly proud of our public education system could lead. Having already taken the unprecedented step of endorsing Ambassador Phil Murphy in the Democratic Primary, NJEA set about learning from its members how they imagined their professional futures and their future governor.

Just as a NJEA conducted conversations around the Every Student Succeeds Act ESSA in 2016, NJEA held two sessions in February 2017 (a third was cancelled due to inclement weather). At these sessions, members asked each other a series of questions, such as “What has been your experience as an educator under Gov. Christie?” and “What would a government supportive of education look like?”

While the interviews did contain scripted questions, the interviewers and interviewees were strongly encouraged to have a conversation rather than a strict interview.

NJEA staffers next sifted through the transcripts, looking for key phrases and themes. After a thorough reading and analysis, NJEA found from members:

A noble profession undermined

Constant negative attacks coupled with destructive legislation by Gov. Christie have demeaned our profession. Legislation has negatively affected public school employees and the students of New Jersey. To NJEA members, the next governor will need to work with the Senate and Assembly to improve the state of education: legislatively addressing Chapter 78, reforming property taxes and the 2 percent cap, reinstating COLA payments and fully funding pensions.

There is no standard child; they all have unique needs

Members want to reduce the amount of standardized testing that takes away from valuable instructional time and negatively impacts students.

Let educators take charge of the profession!

Members want a governor who is accessible and willing to have an open dialogue with stakeholders to address issues and collaborate on solutions, including the shaping of educational policies. NJEA members would also like to see a moratorium on charter-school expansion, more community input on charters, and equitable accountability for charter schools as compared to traditional public schools.

Our new governor should be genuinely concerned about New Jersey’s children and know that we feel the same way.

Educators are embedded in their communities and want a governor who is just as invested. Students and parents face a variety of issues across the state, ranging from poverty to lack of cultural awareness. The next governor should not only be aware of these issues, but also willing to work with educators and community members to better the quality of life for all New Jersey residents.

We are people—when you outsource jobs, you hurt real people

Teachers and, especially, ESPs are stressed by the looming threat of privatization. ESPs feel undervalued, that their work has been reduced to number in a budget.

Laying the groundwork for the next generation

NJEA members view electing New Jersey’s next governor as an explicit association responsibility. This should be done, first, by organizing members beyond active members to engage retirees as well as younger members. The activities should include sharing members’ concerns, get-out-the-vote drives; and rallies and phone banks.

Moving forward

Taken together, the interviews provided a comprehensive, nuanced story of our profession over the past eight years, where we want to go, and who we want as governor to go with us. Public education, public employees, students, and parents have suffered a great deal over the past eight years, but it now possible to imagine something better. How much better is up to us.

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