Remember when the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) was so opposed to private school vouchers that it would turn its back on an old friend just to punish him for supporting them?
This is what Steve Wollmer, an NJEA spokesman, told me then about politicians who favor vouchers: “This is a bellwether issue for us. It’s no small thing. When you have a legislator who is, in effect, calling for the defunding of public education by hundreds of millions of dollars, it shouldn’t be surprising that the NJEA would not be supporting him.’’
Well, that was then and this is now. Now, the state’s largest teachers’ union won’t endorse a Democratic candidate in the primary for the U.S. Senate in New Jersey even when one of the candidates, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, is a nationally known champion of private school vouchers—and has been for as long as he has been in public life. If he made it to the U.S. Senate, he could join with Republican senators and potentially defund public education by the billions, not just millions, of dollars.
The union’s endorsement of the other candidates, U.S. Rep Rush Holt (D-12th) or U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th), could be the deciding factor in the Aug. 13 primary. (Yes, I know Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) is sort of running, too). The deciding factor, because a well-organized army of NJEA members would help turnout in this bizarrely-timed election—(thanks, Gov. Christie, you’ve always been such a champion of using votes to decide issues. Right.)
Full disclosure here. I am a consultant to the Holt campaign. But the point is it makes absolutely no sense for the NJEA to sit this one out and thereby enhance Booker’s chances. Unlike Holt and Pallone, Booker does not have a pro-union record. Unlike Holt and Pallone, Booker seemed to try to sink the Obama campaign by calling its attacks on Mitt Romney “nauseating.” But this is about school vouchers.
School vouchers—that “bellwether” issue. The issue that, in 2004, led the NJEA to compare voucher supporters to Watergate conspirators. It specifically named Booker as part of a right-wing effort to privatize public education. It’s a good piece. You should read it. I agree with it. I was on one of the trips to Milwaukee the piece describes, and Booker was there, too.
I distinctly remember walking into a voucher school where every visitor was greeted with a hug by a student who said, “Jesus loves you.” As a Catholic, I agree with that sentiment as well, but isn’t there something in the U.S. Constitution about mixing government with religion?
So, I agree with the NJEA’s position on vouchers. I just can’t figure out why the NJEA doesn’t.
I can’t figure out why it wants to send to Washington to replace Frank Lautenberg a man who is anti-union and pro-voucher.
This is what the NJEA is officially saying now. Vouchers, says union spokesman Steve Baker, “are still an important issue to us, and we are still adamantly opposed to them, but they’re not the only issue.’’ He added that, because the NJEA decided not to endorse anyone for the Aug. 13 primary, the issue simply didn’t come up.
True, the NJEA endorsed state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex) for governor before her primary but that was because, “We knew who the candidates would be,’’ Baker says.
“After the primary, we will reconsider,’’ he says. Right. Like Steve Lonegan would ever be endorsed by the NJEA (Well, who knows?).
Privately, union leaders have told me they simply don’t want to anger either Holt or Pallone by endorsing one over the other. What nonsense. What’s Rush going to do—introduce a bill ending tenure? What’s Frank going to do—promote ending dues check-offs? Holt and Pallone spent their entire careers supporting public education and fending off attacks on it, like vouchers.
The NJEA could make a real difference in this primary. It has the chance to strike a blow against vouchers nationally by repudiating Cory Booker, one of the staunchest champions of the effort to rob public schools of needed resources.
Too bad it wants to be Bert Lahr’s lion instead. New Jersey’s teachers deserve better. New Jersey’s schools deserve better. New Jersey deserves better.