The shadowy New Jersey Public Education Coalition (NJPEC) strikes again. Is it a NJEA dark-money front?
The Star-Ledger reports that NJPEC sent a letter to Gov. Murphy and the DOE asking them to crack down on school boards that are not implementing Murphy’s controversial sex ed guidelines the way NJPEC thinks they should. NJPEC has a very progressive view of how sex ed should be taught in schools and has no tolerance for board members or parents who think otherwise. NJPEC has threatened these school boards with lawsuits and now wants state government to join in the intimidation by disciplining board members and threatening to cut state aid.
But why is a retired lawyer from Wayne (Michael Gottesman, the founder of NJPEC) the enforcer for progressive sex ed policies in Garwood, Sussex-Wantage, Montague, Jackson, Millstone, Lakewood and Middletown? Where does he get the money for his statewide effort? What if it were actually the state teachers union, the NJEA, that was covertly using NJPEC to strong-arm school boards to enforce progressive sex ed policies? That would change the entire story.
As Sunlight previously reported, that very much looks to be the case. It very much looks like NJPEC’s main funder, the dark-money Super PAC Education Truth Project (ETP), is an NJEA front.
With the NJEA’s backing, NJPEC’s intimidation would constitute an improper role for a labor union, which is supposed to be concerned with the employment conditions of its members. Substantive education policy — like sex ed — is set by elected representatives of the community, such as school boards, legislators and governors. Seen in this light, NJPEC’s strong-arming constitutes an improper overreach into the realm of education policy. That’s probably why the NJEA would hide behind a dark-money front.
And this is not some minor overreach. The NJEA is a state-level union with $150 million in annual revenues from automatically withheld teachers’ dues. Local school boards are no match for the NJEA and cannot devote the money necessary for legal battles or withstand cuts in state aid. Moreover, school board members are mostly just civic-minded parents helping out their communities. They have little stomach for well-funded lawfare against them. This massive disparity in financial strength makes the NJEA-backed NJPEC look like the proverbial schoolyard bully.
No one, including the New Jersey public, likes a schoolyard bully. The NJEA’s involvement would thus make this a much bigger story, meriting greater attention and entailing a broader discussion about the proper role for labor unions in matters of substantive education policy.
All of which begs the question: Why is the Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s premier press organ, taking everything NJPEC says at face value? Even when it’s blatantly false? When Gottesman previously claimed to the Star-Ledger that “right-wing extremists” are pumping “hundreds of millions of dollars” into their New Jersey efforts — without providing a shred of evidence — the Star-Ledger did not question it. Nor did it inquire about NJPEC’s own funding. Why not?
Likewise, in the current article the Star-Ledger describes NJPEC as a “non-partisan group, which includes educators, administrators, municipal leaders, parents and concerned citizens working to protect schools from extremism.” But that is, almost word for word, exactly how NJPEC describes itself. But what if the NJEA’s dark money is behind NJPEC? Would the Star-Ledger describe NJPEC in the same way? Would it portray the conflict in the same terms? Would it see the story as bigger, with broader implications?
We will never know because the Star-Ledger isn’t asking. Why not?