A Hope for the Heart of Phil Murphy

The big news story today, of course, is U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell’s failure to summon enough votes to bring to the floor a bill that would decimate the Affordable Care Act and throw 22 million Americans, mostly low-income, old, or disabled, off the insurance rolls. The New York Times Editorial Board, for example, writes that “the bill is a cruel hoax that would help the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the poorest.”

And, as I read all these stories, I can’t help but puzzle once again over our next governor Phil Murphy’s support for a charter school moratorium.

I believe that if he were a U.S. Congressman he would, like ten out of twelve of New Jersey’s House members, vote against the repeal. If he were a U.S. Senator, he would have publicly voiced his dissent for a bill that would privilege those of means at the expense of Americans who depend on ACA for healthcare.

And yet he has said that he supports a moratorium — a repeal, if you will — on the approval and expansion of public charter schools, a sector that affords families zoned for long-struggling traditional schools the opportunity to have access to high-quality public education.

Affordable healthcare and effective education are not luxuries. They are fundamental public goods that should be accessible to all Americans. ACA increases access to medical care for people who don’t get high-quality insurance plans through their employers. Public charter schools increase access to effective instructional services for children who don’t get high-quality education through their zoned school districts.

Really, what’s the difference?

Yet Phil Murphy — along with every one of his Democratic contenders in this month’s primary election — has called for a cessation of charter school expansion, despite tens of thousands of families clamoring for relief.

The cynic in me attributes Murphy’s animus towards charters to his sycophantic stance towards NJEA (one, in fairness, shared by many N.J. elected officials with the notable exception of Senate President Steve Sweeney). After all, the union endorsed him practically before he even declared his candidacy and just as eagerly has endorsed a bill that would halt all charter expansion for three years. Dale Caldwell, a former charter school leader in Trenton, wrote a few years back,

The NJEA and their champions in the Legislature cannot allow the one sector of the public education system that is showing achievement, promise, and hope for students and families to flourish if it cannot be controlled by them, so they exert political pressure to stifle the success of charter public schools.

Just as Trump’s flunkies exert political pressure to halt access to healthcare (or immigration or policies to address climate change), so NJEA exerts political pressure — as well as its deep pockets — to stave off the continued enrollment of children, mostly poor and of color, in high-quality alternative public schools. Why? To preserve its membership. To maintain its market share. To sustain its monopoly.

I get that. NJEA leaders are just doing their job of protecting adult job security, regardless of the impact on children.

But the idealist in me, struggling for breath in these most cynical of times, continues to hope that Phil Murphy will take the time to visit charter schools in long educationally-impoverished cities like Newark and Camden and observe the beneficial impact on  children whom we have historically sloughed off like chaff. I think he would change his mind and abandon the cruel hoax that these children can wait for change. At least I hope he would.

What do you think?

More Comments