Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Reaction to Chris Christie's Education Reform Proposals

Ed Mazlish sent us the following response regarding the Governor's education reform agenda:

Governor Christie called the Legislature into special session for a Constitutional Amendment to deal with the crisis of school funding and the high property taxes mandated by the Abbott decisions. Did he propose an Amendment to overrule th...e Abbott decisions? No. He proposed yet another cap on property tax increases - instead of dealing with (1) the Court's blatant violation of separation of powers by ordering spending and tax increases to support such spending; and (2) the misguided Constitutional provision that the Court used to justify such violation of separation of powers (the Public Education Clause). If he "loved children" and really wanted to deal with the education crisis - both from the perspective of failing schools and skyrocketting property taxes - he would have urged a very different Constitutional Amendment. And he certainly would not be trying to override taxing and spending decisions dealing with education made by local school boards and centralize such decisionmaking in Trenton.

What's even worse is that he had a very creative, committed Education Commissioner in Bret Schundler who has demonstrated novel thinking on solving education problems. Instead of implementing some of the vouchjer and charter school proposals Schundler has championed and pioneered, he threw Schundler under the bus at the first opportunity.

The solutions to the education problem are really not that difficult. Conservative thinkers and politicians have been providing the justifications necessary to implement real change in the education arena - these arguments have been available for at least all of Governor Christie's adult life, if not longer. He is either aware of them and chooses to ignore then, or he is willfully ignorant of them. Either way that does not demonstrate his love for the children.

Bashing the teachers unions makes for good soundbytes (and I am no fan of those unions, or any other unions for that matter). But it does not make for sound policy. It would be nice of the Governor had a better solution to the education crisis than artificial caps on property taxes (that have more holes than swiss cheese), redistributing wealth from rich districts to poor ones (otherwise known as raiding the surpluses of districts that actually saved money for a rainy day over the years), and demoralizing the teachers who will ultimately be teaching most children in New Jersey. We deserve better from a Governor who promised to shake things up.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chris Christie on Education Reform

Today, Sep 28, I attended Governor Chris Christie's townhall meeting in Old Bridge, focused on his proposals for education reform. It's the first time I go to a townhall organized by someone I support. The ones I've attended before were organized by Democrats and resulted in a lot of frustrated attendees, vociferations, protests and so on, due to the extreme views of the speakers. Rush Holt even decided that "townhalls have a negative connotation", without thinking that maybe his ideas have negative implications. So in a way I expected a lot of discontent union members to show up, especially in Democratic Old Bridge from Democratic Middlesex County. To my surprise, most of the people inside the packed room (a few hundred peoples) were supporting the Christie Reform Agenda, were enthusiastic about his proposals, and have him many rounds of standing ovations.

The Governor started kinda like an E! channel show, with about five minutes dedicated to movie reviews. He talked about The Cartel, but especially about the newly released Waiting for Superman. There's no coincidence, as these movies are about failed public school systems. So he went straight to the topic of the day - education. And today he didn't speak about compensation, benefits, guaranteed pay raises or (lack of) contributions to health insurance, but about one thing: teacher quality.

Packed room in Old Bridge

His first example, as it relates to his recent joint appearance with Mayor Booker of Newark and CEO Mark Zuckerberg (or Zuckerman as Booker repeatedly called him) of Facebook, was about the abysmal Newark school system. Over there, only 1 in 2 children graduate from high school. You can say this is bad enough. But 95% of those students who decide to go to college need remedial education to bring them up to the level of college admission knowledge! What this means is that high school tests are rigged so those teachers can make themselves look good and keep their jobs!

The problem with public (unionized) education in NJ (and other states) is that it doesn't take into account AT ALL teachers' performance. The system doesn't reward good teachers and punish bad teachers. It just maintains a status quo where everyone has a guaranteed job, a guaranteed salary, a guaranteed pay raise. Imagine another enterprise, a private company, where at the end of the year, the boss comes to one of the worst employees and says "Congrats for surviving one more year! Here's your bonus and your 5% raise for next year!". Does anyone see that possible?? Well, it's the reality of unionized education, where the only test you have to pass in order to keep your job and get a raise is "to breathe". That's all you have to do!

Chris Christie said "I don't attack teachers. I attack BAD teacher". And later: "I don't bash teachers, I bash stubborn, self-interested unions". It's the unions that have created the so called "rubber rooms" in New York City. A rubber room is a room where the worst teachers are sent to just do nothing... watch TV, read newspapers, play cards, while getting paid full salary and benefits. Just because it's so hard and expensive to fire them that it's more economically feasible to pay them full salary to do nothing! That's the reality of public education.

The Governor said the NJ Legislature needs to act on several bills. One is about prohibiting using seniority as a basis for deciding compensation. It goes back to the previous example. Right now, salaries, benefits and pay raises are obtained automatically, simply by breathing for one more year. It doesn't matter if you're the best or the worst teacher, you get the same. I don't think it's even necessary to ask what's then the incentive to be a good teacher?? Christie's proposal is very simple: compensation should be based only on merit. Good teachers get paid more, and bad teachers get paid less or get FIRED. Also, he suggested that additional degrees shouldn't be a criteria for boosting a salary, as a lot of teachers get free Masters' degrees (I mean, paid by the taxpayers) in non-related subjects, just to get a pay increase.

Chris Christie's 2nd legislative proposal is about tenure. The way tenure is used now in public education is illogical. Tenure was introduced in higher education in order to stimulate professors to be free thinkers and to engage in creative debate, without fearing for their job. But it's been adopted by the public education system as a synonym for "job guarantee". 3rd grade teachers don't engage in phylosophical debates, the hide behind tenure as an excuse for their performance. Imagine the following discussion a principal can have with a parent: "Your daughter's 3rd grade teacher is really bad, but you know we can't fire her. Lucky us, we got more funding from the state, so we're gonna give her a pay raise this year, and try to talk to her into bettering herself. And who knows, maybe next year she'll do a better job". The thing is that the daughter of that parent has only one year in 3rd grade. And that more money won't make that teacher better. But this is the reality of our public, unionized education.

I think teachers should be like eveybody else working in this country: you do your job well, you keep it. You do a bad job, you get fired. Chris Christie's proposal wasn't that common sense (or "radical", as the Democrats would call it), he just proposed that tenure should be granted or revoked based on teacher performance. I'm sure it would still be very hard to revoke someone's tenure, but it's a small step forward.

Christie takes on the unions

After his speech, the Governor said he's ready for "the fun part of the program, the one most likely to get on YouTube": questions from the public. He responded pretty much on point to all of them, as they were about common sense issues like education (mostly) or public employees. He seemed a little bit upset only when the issues of accrued sick time was raised. In case you didn't know, public employees are allowed a certain amount of sick days per year, which accrue unlimited over their career, and when you retire you get PAID for all those unused sick days. Sounds sick, doesn't it??? The Governor errupted saying that "if after 20 years on the job you haven't used any sick days, you shouldn't asked to be paid for that, you should go to church, get on your knees, and thank God for your good health". But really, can anyone find any similar arrangement in any other American enterprise? There were people who retired this year and were paid by the State (meaning us, taxpayers), $900,000 (Nine Hundred Thousand Dollars) in accrued sick time. This makes ME sick! The best the Governor could do was to cap those payments at $15k/person. Still a lot, but the best you can achieve with a Democratic legislature driven by special interest groups (read: Unions).

Someone asked about RGGI, which is the local equivalent of Cap & Trade, used by several liberal Northeast states. I was looking forward to hearing the Governor's opinion about this, and can't say I was very satisfied. He said he's a bit opposed to it, because big industrial states like Pennsylvania are not participating, so the program is totally ineffective and even more, creates higher costs of doing business in NJ, while Pennsylvania can attract more of those businesses away from NJ. But Chris Christie didn't specifically address the fact that it costs small businesses a lot of money and ultimately we, the citizens of NJ, have to pay all those costs associated with Tax&Trade.

Finally, Chris Christie's best quote about Democrats came as related to a question about vouchers and charter schools: "They don't like choice, because it allows people to walk away from failures". This is true about so many aspects about our life. Democrats would like to mandate and regulate everything (what to eat, what car to drive, what light bulbs to use, etc), because people won't "choose" something they don't like unless they're forced to or left with no other choice.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Rush Holt "Darling" Appointed as Consumer Protection Czar

Today, Pres. Obama announced that he will appoint Elizabeth Warren to be an Assistant to the President and Special Advisor to the Secretary of Treasury on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, circumventing the Senate confirmation process. Sen. John Cornyn issued the following statement:

“Another day, another unelected czar is added to the Obama Administration. The President’s reliance on unelected czars to implement his radical agenda skirts the very checks and balances our nation was founded upon, and directly contradicts President Obama’s pledge to be the most transparent Administration in history. What is transparent is that making Elizabeth Warren his ‘consumer czar’ is an obvious political favor to special interest groups – like labor unions and liberal grassroots organizations – meant to invigorate them 50 days before an election.”

Back in July, Rush Holt was asked at a "press conference" if he'd support Elizabeth Warren was a consumer protection czar. He became very excited about that question. He couldn't stop praising her. Holt said that Warren "distinguished herself by speaking for the little guy", and that "some say she's a liberal, but she just wants to help the little guy". He also said Warren "SHOULD BE the 1st director of a Consumer Protection Agency", but because it would be practically impossible to confirm such a radical leftist (with communist sympathies) in the Senate, Holt said he hopes that the President can circumvent the Senate and appoint her.

So Rush Holt's months-long scheme came true, Elizabeth Warren being appointed as a czar without the due process of Senate confirmations.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Desperate Career Politician Holt Resorts to Negative Smear Campaign Against Sipprelle

Sipprelle slams Holt TV Ad as "mean-spirited and full of fabrications"

Princeton, September 8, 2010 - Career politician Rush Holt (NJ-12) launched his campaign today with a negative cable television commercial filled with personal attacks and complete fabrications in a desperate attempt to smear his opponent and distract voters from his failed record in Congress, charged his challenger, businessman Scott Sipprelle.

The ad is in stark contrast to the positive, issued-based ads Sipprelle has aired this summer detailing his positions on important issues facing the country.

"After 12 years in Congress, all Rush Holt has to offer is dishonest attack ads to distract people from his failed record on jobs, reckless government spending and extreme partisanship," said Sipprelle. "His decision to go negative on me in his first ad is the clearest indication yet that our positive campaign message of economic renewal and political reform is catching fire with voters and that Mr. Holt's political career is on life support."

Sipprelle chided Holt for, again, resorting to personal smears and complete fabrications about Sipprelle's stance on the issues.

"Let me be perfectly clear, I have never once advocated for denying women equal pay for equal work. On behalf of my wife and daughter, I challenge Mr. Holt to produce one single shred of credible proof that I have ever taken that position," said Sipprelle. "Furthermore, Mr. Holt's retreat into class-warfare politics in attacking my plan for comprehensive tax reform isn't surprising from a professional politician who has made a career out of promoting tax-hikes and tax loopholes."

Sipprelle added, "My position on this issue has always been crystal clear - my flat tax plan would cut taxes for all individuals and corporations, while eliminating tax breaks, credits, earmarks, and special deductions. That's not a tax cut for the rich, it's a tax cut for working people and an end to Washington's shady culture of tax loopholes. This will create a fairer, simpler system and help spark our economy."

Sipprelle concluded by saying he relished a fight with his opponent over who best represents the American Dream.

"My immigrant grandfather began his American dream by picking vegetables in farm fields, while Mr. Holt comes from a line of established politicians," charged Sipprelle. "I started from the bottom and worked my way to success through personal sacrifice, toil and dedication, while Mr. Holt has spent his entire professional life in the sheltered confines of a college campus ivory tower or roaming the Halls of Congress. I coached town baseball and fund educational scholarships for the disadvantaged, while he parties and cuts deals with lobbyists and political insiders who help preserve his increasingly tenuous cling to power. When it comes to the American Dream, I am the living embodiment of it, while Mr. Holt promotes policies that are moving the American Dream out-of-reach for future generations of Americans."

See Holt's TV Ad here:

Friday, September 3, 2010

Is a Severe Recession Obama's Plan for 2012?

If you thought we barely passed through a bad recession, then wait for 2011. The huge tax increases that will occur when the tax cuts of 2002-2004 expire will deal a severe blow to our economy, which could send us into a much severe recession that the one we didn't even recover from.

Despite all the lies that come out of Obama's mouth (and I'm shocked at how he can keep a straight face while telling them), small businesses will suffer a deadly hit after January 1st. As you can read in today's Wall Street Journal, 48% of small business income will see a tax rate increase from 35% to 40.8%. That's a 5.8 tax rate increase, or more precisely, a 16% increase in the tax liability. At the end of 2011, as a small business owner, you should be happy to still be in business.

Now consider the fact that the GOP will take over the House (according to a study published by the Huffington Post, there's a 79% chance of that happening). Also, the GOP is very close to also getting the Senate. According to the RCP averages, Republicans will win 8 seats. That leaves them to win 2 of the other 3 competitive races (Wisconsin, California and Nevada), which is very probable.

So what's gonna happen? Republicans will control the full Congress, Obama will prevent them from passing any relief measures, and will blame the recession that he engineered on an inept GOP Congress. Then he will run on this in 2012. It seems like the only thing that could still save him, given the total support from the media.