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10-6-11 Charters, Norcross on education, school funding - Politicfact
Nj.com, Star Ledger - N.J. Democratic leader George Norcross calls for more charter schools, change to teacher tenure

Star Ledger - One of four N.J. charter schools awarded federal grant not yet approved to operate

Politifact-Star Legder - The Truth-O-Meter Says: Says Gov. Chris Christie "cut spending (by) $1 billion" and provided "$850 million in new education funding."

Njspotlight.com - Norcross Captures Audience Attention with Education Agenda…One day after Christie promises renewed focus on education, South Jersey power broker weighs in

Njspotlight.com - Norcross Captures Audience Attention with Education AgendaOne day after Christie promises renewed focus on education, South Jersey power broker weighs in

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By John Mooney, October 6 in Education|Post a Comment

The significance of George Norcross's speech on education reform last night at Rider University may have been as much about who was listening as what he said.

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The South Jersey businessman and Democratic leader didn't make much new news, delivering what has become his standard pitch of late for education reform, save a few choice details.

He talked about the merits of charter schools, the need to save urban schools and their families, the importance of parental involvement, and the role for corporate involvement.

Interestingly, he did not mention school vouchers once or the proposed Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA), previous favorites. He even skipped over the topic when it was offered up in a question from the audience of about 150 people, although he did talk about "alternative means, some of them controversial."

"It is absolutely wrong that kids who are residents of Camden or any other struggling city should not have the same opportunity as my children or yours," he said more broadly.

But through it all, the audience at the event hosted by the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics was intent and listening -- and not a bad a crowd. In attendance was a who's-who of education lobbyists and advocates, all wanting to hear the education philosophy of a man who is arguably New Jersey's second most powerful political leader behind Gov. Chris Christie.

Among them were the executive director and the chief lobbyist of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), a group that has had its differences -- including attack ads – with Norcross. But they appeared friendly last night, with Norcross going over to both to say hello before his hour–long talk.

"It matters what he says because he's an influential guy, no doubt about it," said Vince Giordano, the NJEA's director. "And we're trying to exert some influence on an influential guy. Hopefully, he'll do what's best for kids."

Giordano said there had been a "little bit of a rocky start" with Norcross's support for pension reforms that the NJEA has viciously fought. But Norcross appeared to have said a lot of the right things for the NJEA last night, including that teachers and their unions need to be central players in the discussions as well.

"On a business level, we're working our way through," Giordano said afterward.

Ben Dworkin, the director of the Rebovich Center, said he was pleased with the attendance, many of them Rider students, as well as close to a dozen members of the press.

He said Norcross's easy speaking style and extensive comments about the complexity of school reform counter an image of a powerful and secretive political boss intent on his ways.

"George Norcross is a fascinating character in the world of New Jersey politics, business, and philanthropy," Dworkin said. "Lots of people have no idea what his voice sounds like. This was an opportunity to hear him in his own voice and not some caricature that has been created over time."

"I think there is a caricature that has been made of George Norcross, and he is much more subtle and sophisticated than that," Dworkin said.

Still, given Norcross's power, it is widely viewed that he can single-handedly direct legislation and policy through his influence over the state's Democratic leadership, especially those from South Jersey, including Senate Speaker Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester).

But Norcross didn't need reveal much in terms of the legislative jockeying that continues in the Statehouse around education issues such as tenure reform, charter schools, and even school vouchers.

The talk came a day after Christie captured the state's and nation's attention by announcing he would not run for president but would make education an immediate priority. Norcross last night said he would focus on urban schools, especially charters, and offering families more options.

He repeated that Cooper Medical, the Camden health center of which Norcross is chairman, plans to sponsor new and existing charter schools in the city. "In Camden there are literally 1,000 kids who desperately want an education, their parents want that opportunity, and there are no seats left," he said.

He also voiced some support for tenure reforms that would tie teachers' jobs and pay more closely to their student's achievement, probably the main issue expected to come up in the legislature's lame duck session after the election. But he did not put the same stock in it that others have, especially Christie.

"I don't think it is the be-all in and end-all in improving schools, but I do think people want a higher level of accountability for teachers," he said.

Norcross also offered up some words of caution and patience, something not that common in the current high-octane political environment. "This will take many, many years, and it will take a lot of folks being part of the solution.


Nj.com - N.J. Democratic leader George Norcross calls for more charter schools, change to teacher tenure

Published: Wednesday, October 05, 2011, 9:09 PM Updated: Wednesday, October 05, 2011, 10:44 PM

By Matt Friedman/Statehouse BureauThe Star-Ledger

TRENTON — George Norcross, a south Jersey Democratic power broker and insurance executive, called for more charter schools, a change to the teacher tenure system and corporate sponsorship for public schools at a forum tonight.

Norcross told a Rider University audience of about 100 that some private schools educate students successfully for less money than failing public schools.

“As a businessman you can see there’s something wrong with that picture,” he said, adding there’s too much bureaucracy.

“Sometimes I wonder how teachers can teach,” he said.

Norcross, who has never been elected to public office but is one of the most influential people in state politics, used to keep a low public profile. But he has recently spoken out on overhauling the state’s public education system, beginning in poor, urban areas.

“I think we need to be yelling and screaming until change takes place,” he said.

Norcross said he supports converting failing public schools to charter schools, though he said those are not the “be-all, end-all” solution. He said he believes in merit pay to “reward excellence,” that he would like to see incremental changes to the teacher tenure system and that school days should be longer. And he said corporations and higher educational institutions need to sponsor public schools.

“Why doesn’t Rider put their name on a school? Meaning a charter school or a public school or some other form of education and get people engaged in what goes on here. Why not he Campbell’s Soup company? Why not PSE&G? Why not our great institutions of higher learning,” he said.

Democrats, not Republicans, should be leading on changing public education, Norcross said.

“I have been disappointed at times that the Democratic Party has not led this issue, because I think by and large those who are affected by it in an adverse way are Democrats”

While describing himself as a “proud Democrat,” Norcross offered some mild criticism of President Obama, saying “it’s fair to say” many Americans don’t view him with “leadership qualities.” He compared him to Ed Rendell as mayor of Philadelphia.
“Philadelphia might not have been doing great, but Ed Rendell made people feel good about Philadelphia,” he said.

Norcross’s views on education, and his support of curtailing public sector benefits, have led to clashes with the New Jersey Education Association – the state’s largest teachers union. Less than four months ago, the union aired an ad accusing Norcross of financially benefiting from the pension and health benefit overhaul Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), his close ally, was shepherding through the upper house. Norcross hit back with his own press conference, accusing the union of personal attacks because they want to avoid reform.

But tonight, Norcross joked with and had cordial conversations with NJEA officials. Vince Giordano, the union’s executive director, said things had cooled off a bit since the ad was aired.

“We’ve been in dialogue about where we can find common ground and things that would be good for public education in New Jersey,” he said, but adding they’re not completely at peace.

“Kumbaya? That’s too strong a word,” he said.



Star Ledger - One of four N.J. charter schools awarded federal grant not yet approved to operate

Published: Thursday, October 06, 2011, 7:15 AM

By Jessica Calefati/The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger

HIGHLAND PARK — One of four fledgling New Jersey charter schools awarded $785,000 in federal grants to help finance start-up costs has not yet received approval from the state to operate.

The U.S. Department of Education awarded $200,000 to the Friends of Tikun Olam to help the school plan its curriculum and open its doors. Last week, the state Department of Education denied Tikun Olam’s application to open a Hebrew-language immersion high school in Highland Park.

Last spring, the school stirred controversy in Highland Park, where parents, teachers and legislators rallied to have its application blocked. They argued the unproven charter school would route money away from Highland Park’s high performing public schools.

Though Tikun Olam will have a chance to re-apply for a charter by a mid-October deadline, the state has already denied the school’s application three times. School founder Sharon Akman could not be reached for comment.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education could not be reached to explain why an organization associated with Tikun Olam received the federal funds.

The other three charter schools awarded funding include Bright Horizon Charter School in Penns Grove, Shalom Academy Charter School in Teaneck and Spirit Preparatory Charter School in Newark.

These new charter schools have all received state approval and are scheduled to open in 2012. Each school received between $186,000 and $200,000.

Politifact-Star Legder  - The Truth-O-Meter Says: Says Gov. Chris Christie "cut spending (by) $1 billion" and provided "$850 million in new education funding."

Committee for Our Children's Future on Tuesday, September 20th, 2011 in a television ad

Television ad promotes Chris Christie’s spending cuts, increased education funding

Committee for Our Children's Future began broadcasting this television ad in September to tout Christie's accomplishments.

If you believe what you see on television, Gov. Chris Christie is a ray of sunshine in a dark and dreary world.

A television ad broadcast in recent weeks by a group of Christie supporters paints that image of the governor, while touting his achievements of cutting spending and increasing education funding.

From a group called the Committee for Our Children’s Future, the ad begins with a hazy image of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. as the narrator intones: "Runaway spending, record debt, gridlock government. Washington is backwards."

Then suddenly, the video turns to an image of a sunrise with the narrator telling us who’s responsible: "But Chris Christie, with bipartisan support, is taking New Jersey (in) another direction."

The ad goes on to claim Christie "cut spending (by) $1 billion" and provided "$850 million in new education funding."

PolitiFact New Jersey found that the group’s numbers are technically correct, but the picture is less sunny when you examine the education funding changes over the course of Christie’s tenure.

Let’s start with that $1 billion in spending cuts.

The $1 billion in spending cuts mentioned in the ad refers to the line-item vetoes made by Christie in response to a $30.6 billion budget approved in June by the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

With his line-item vetoes, Christie reduced the fiscal year 2012 budget to nearly $29.7 billion. So the group is right that he cut spending by about $1 billion from what the Legislature had approved.

Despite that decrease, the fiscal year 2012 budget is still larger than the fiscal year 2011 budget that Christie signed in June 2010. The fiscal year 2012 budget is about $1.3 billion greater than the fiscal year 2011 budget approved last year.

David Rosen, the budget and finance officer for the state’s nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services, said that $1.3 billion -- most of which represents a pension payment and increased school aid -- was made possible by higher-than-anticipated revenue growth in fiscal year 2011 and projected revenue growth for fiscal year 2012.

Now, let’s turn to the "$850 million in new education funding" mentioned in the ad.

In a
previous ruling, we noted how the fiscal year 2012 budget increases education funding by about $863 million over the prior fiscal year. That figure supports the group’s claim, but there’s two problems with that argument.

First, about half of that increased aid -- more than $446 million -- was required as part of a court order to go to the so-called Abbott districts. So Christie didn’t have a choice about that money.

Secondly, the fiscal year 2011 budget cut education aid by about $829 million. That means the new budget only represents a net increase of about $30 million.

In a Sept. 8 interview on an online radio show hosted by the New Jersey School Boards Association, Christie backs up that analysis:

"Yes, in my first year, we had to cut $820 million in funding from the public schools because we were in an enormous fiscal crisis. But the next year, this budget that I just signed...and advocated for, put an additional $850 million into the budget for public schools. So it paid back the entire cut from the year before of $820 million and added an additional $30 million on top of that."

Brian Jones, a spokesman for Committee for Our Children’s Future, defended both statements in an email.

"Christie did wind up cutting $1 billion in spending, as you note below, so I don’t see how the statement can be seen as being false," Jones said. "Again, Christie did wind up increasing education funding by $850 million this year. It’s a true statement."

Our ruling

A television ad from a pro-Christie group claims the governor "cut spending (by) $1 billion" and provided "$850 million in new education funding."

Those numbers are accurate, but when it comes to the education funding, Committee for Our Children’s Future must think New Jerseyans only have short-term memory. Given the cuts made last year, education funding has gone up by a total of about $30 million since Christie’s first budget in office.

We rate the statement Half True.

To comment on this ruling, go to NJ.com

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