Guest Author - Stacy Wiegman
Chris Christie is the governor of New Jersey, and he is rattling some sacred cages there, namely the teachers union. But for all the money the teachers union is spending to criticize the governor, he's getting a lot of support from the citizens of the state.
New Jersey has long had an identity crisis as it sits between Philadelphia and New York, to many just a a collection of highways to get to "The City." In the north part of the state, it is a series of suburbs from which people commute into New York. While it's cheaper than living in Manhattan, it's still expensive, and the property taxes are the highest in the country.
Despite the high taxes, the state is in deep debt, and the previous governor, John Corzine, a Wall Street money-man, ran promising to improve the state's financial situation. He failed to make a dent.
Like California, New Jersey has a strong teachers union. While support for education is unarguably important, the cost of education in New Jersey and California is unsustainable. New Jersey spends more per student than any other state (Washington DC tops the list), and it has good graduation rates in general, although impoverished areas like Camden still graduate less than half the students.
While the teachers union leaders brag about their success, it comes at a huge cost. Their salaries are among the highest in the country, and their benefits are also generous. Christie has encouraged voters in local school districts to vote down any salary increases, and many have done so. With that kind of voter response, the teachers and the union cannot blame Christie. The voters are saying that they do not want to continue this largesse.
The financial situation of teachers in New Jersey is emblematic of many public employees groups in many states--good salaries, fantastic benefits unmatched by the private sector, and virtually tenured positions. In addition, there is no tie between performance and pay. The majority of people working in the private sector have much less generous benefits, and their pay is tied to their own performance and that of their employers. Asking the same of teachers seems reasonable, and Governor Christie has struck a cord with that message.