New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gave the keynote speech at the Jeb Bush Excel in Education Annual Summit in Washington, D.C. Tuesday night. In his 50-minute speech on education reform – one of Christie’s most passionate topics – the governor left no room to question how he feels about teachers’ unions, most specifically the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA).
In short: he doesn’t like them.
Hosted by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the audience was comprised of a wide range of VIPs in the education world, state lawmakers, former Florida Republican Governor Jeb Bush, and Bob Bowdon, director of “The Cartel,” to name a few.
As always, Christie was in his usual form.
“I am often called impatient by folks in my state and I plead guilty. I plead guilty to impatience,” said Christie when talking about his now infamous fights with the NJEA. “This is not a Democrat or Republican issue,” he continued, before calling education reform “the seminal civil rights issue of our time.”
“I’ve said to those folks in the Democrat Party that represent some of the most ill-served children in our state…that they’re ignoring the issue. It’s unacceptable.”
But while Christie had plenty to say to bad teachers and corrupt lawmakers, he reserved his finest moments for talking about the NJEA, telling the audience that it is “time to do what the teachers’ unions say they do everyday — put the children first.”
On the current struggle with the NJEA over superintendent pay caps, Christie had this to say: “This conspiracy among superintendents is extraordinary. And you’re watching it play out in New Jersey right now because we’ve imposed a cap on superintendent pay. To be the super of the schools — that’s a hard job [they say]…but I’ll tell you this, it’s no harder than my job. And I make $175,000 a year. So I said, ‘How bout this? You don’t make any more than me.’”
When talking about the financial wealth of the NJEA, Christie said, “But what strikes you when you go down State Street as a new governor is that there are all these small buildings, except for two. The State House, and right across the street, the palace built by the NJEA.”
“And I mean a palace,” Christie went on, “built with $130 million in dues they collect a year. $130 million in dues a year. So you say to yourself, ‘Well, with $130 million dues a year, they must contribute to their members’ salaries.’”
“No,” said Christie.
“‘They must be contributing to their members’ pensions,'” Christie said, before indicating that wasn’t the case.
“‘$130 million a year – all right – they’re kicking it for their member’s health benefits,’” he continued.
Again, Christie said “No.”
He went on to say that the NJEA collects $730 in mandatory dues per member, per year. The fee is deducted from teachers’ paychecks by the state of New Jersey, then wire transferred directly to the NJEA. “Because we want to make this as convenient as possible,” Christie said with a smirk.
The governor also reminded the audience that for teachers in New Jersey who want to opt out of the union, they must pay an opt-out fee of 85 percent of the $730.
“Now, for people in my generation…this is like the Hotel California. You can check out anytime you like, but you may never leave,” said Christie amidst laughs.
He ended on a more somber note, pointing out that New Jersey spends an average of $18,000 per pupil, per year. Despite that, 205 schools in the state are deemed to be chronically failing. “I am impatient. And it is an obscenity that those who claim to be involved in public education for the kids aren’t just as impatient as upset as I am,” he said.
“I can’t afford to be tired,” he added. “I can’t afford to get discouraged. The people didn’t hire me because of my charm and good looks; they hired me because they know our state’s a mess.”
“Our children can no longer stand the consequences of this kind of conduct,” Christie said.