Chris Christie’s heard the complaints often.
He cut education funding. He supports charter schools. He’s hard on teachers, and his quest for tenure and other reforms is over the top.
But the governor continues responding to those complaints with various versions of this refrain: New Jersey has the most funding put toward education in state history.
And Christie said it again Nov. 2 during a gubernatorial campaign stop in Somers Point, when he and a public school teacher got into an argument. Christie was re-elected Tuesday.
"In fact, there’s more state funding for education today than any other time," Christie said when the teacher cited the governor’s education funding cuts for why he has referred to New Jersey schools as "failure factories."
Technically Christie is right about the level of education funding in New Jersey, but as we’ve pointed out in the past, there’s a bit more to this story that he doesn’t address.
First, let’s get back to that remark about ‘failure factories.’ Christie used it during a speech he gave Oct. 6 to the Orthodox Union in Teaneck, where he promoted his education policies.
"I would be happy to take as many dollars as possible away from failure factories that send children on a no-stop route to prison and to failed dreams, if we could take that money and put it into a place where those families have hope," Christie said.
Now, to the governor’s point about education funding.
Christie’s proposed fiscal year 2014 budget called for nearly $9 billion in education funding, about $1 billion more than the previous year. Under that spending plan, state aid to schools increased $97 million. While no district saw a state aid decrease, many either received an increase of $1 or their funding stayed the same as the previous year.
At the time, Christie released a statement through the state Department of Education in which he touted the funding level while also emphasizing fiscal restraint.
"However, even as we continue to fund education at the highest levels in state history, we must remain willing to reflect on how we are spending our money and work towards solutions that make every dollar we invest count," he said in the statement.
We’ve previously run Christie’s claim past Steve Wollmer, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union. Wollmer agreed that in terms of dollars, it’s correct that the state has its highest-ever level of education funding.
But that doesn’t mean there hasn't a been long-lasting downside to cuts that Christie made during his first year as governor. He took office in January 2010.
"But what he doesn’t mention is that he cut $1.3 billion from state aid in his first year – Withholding $475 million in aid in January, which was the amount that the state’s nearly 600 districts had in total surpluses for unanticipated expenses (a new roof, a bus that needed replacing, an unanticipated special ed placement), and another $820 million in the FY11 budget (which began for schools in September of 2010)," Wollmer said previously in a statement to PolitiFact New Jersey. "Districts cut back dramatically, and 10,000 teachers and staff were laid off, programs were cut, and class sizes increased."
Those cuts continue to sting, Wollmer said.
In addition to the cuts, the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2011 ordered Christie to increase aid to the now-former Abbott districts by about $500 million.
Christie last week said during an argument with a teacher, "In fact, there’s more state funding for education today than any other time."
Critics frequently call the governor out for the massive funding cuts he’s made to education since taking office, and for either increasing state aid by a minimal amount or not at all. But the fact of the matter is that despite the cuts, New Jersey’s education funding level is the highest it’s ever been. For that reason, we rate Christie’s statement True.
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