Wednesday, June 09, 2010

NJ education PAC eyes Democrats

An article about DFER coming to NJ:

Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee that has put hard cash behind its reform crusade in New York State, quietly opened a New Jersey affiliate in February.

Its goal is to peel Democrats away from the grip of the New Jersey Education Association, the powerful teachers union. That will take communication (white papers, radio ads, door-to-door campaigning, if necessary) and eventually investment — checks written directly to legislators' campaign accounts.

"I haven't identified our top 10 legislators who are for us and our top 10 legislators who are being detrimental," said Kathleen Nugent, the group's New Jersey director. But over time, the group will target "who is supporting their kids and who is supporting the unions."

The national group now has chapters is six states..

…But equally noteworthy is that Republican Governor Christie won last year without the NJEA. In fact, he refused to even meet with union leaders for a customary pre-endorsement interview. From the moment of his victory, Christie has waged an all-out war on the union, ridiculing them as selfish "bullies" willing to sacrifice teachers' jobs by opposing his call for a pay freeze.

And Christie is also advancing a reform agenda that is, in spirit, almost identical to the aims of Democrats for Education reform. Christie has called for expanding the number of charter schools and is also advancing a "tool kit" that would require teachers to endure a lengthier and more rigorous path to tenure. He also supports tying teacher pay to student performance. "It's a great time for education reform in New Jersey," Nugent said.

…Education reform comes at a time when New Jersey Democrats are undergoing an identity crisis. Some argue that education reform is the cause of their identity crisis. The union can no longer count on Democrats to automatically defend their interests. Newark Mayor Cory Booker serves on the Democrats for Education Reform advisory board.

Support for charter schools and other reforms by Democratic Party allies, like the Rev. Reginald T. Jackson of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey, reflect the frustration of the urban working class with public schools. Party leadership is generally more conservative and less inclined to embrace the NJEA political agenda.

Social "liberals" like Sen. Ray Lesniak, D-Union, are now sponsoring legislation that would give tax credits to corporations that provide "scholarships" for children to attend private schools — a watered down version of school vouchers. It's a party acutely aware that the NJEA and teacher salaries it negotiates and generous benefits it protects are viewed by the public as a cause of the state's fiscal problems.

It doesn't want to be seen as its defenders, even though teachers have sustained them with their dues money for decades. Only a handful of Democrats attended last Saturday's historic rally mobilized by the NJEA.

"It's a party struggling to identify itself," Wollmer said. "But I think it's very important for Democrats to start paying attention to what is happening here. … Democrats have traditionally supported strong public schools because they understand that is what has made this country different from a lot of other countries."

The NJEA will probably spend a lot of money in the coming months and years spreading that message. But they will have a well-heeled competitor spreading its own gospel. The hedge fund operators have arrived.



Well-off education PAC eyes Democrats

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Advocates for overhauling New Jersey's public education system may soon count on deep-pocketed allies — hedge fund operators.

 Subscribe in a reader