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CNN Features Kindergartner as Victim of Gov. Christie's Budget Cuts

CNN's Deborah Feyerick took the offensive Tuesday and emphasized the negative effects of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's cuts to education funding. Feyerick highlighted the plight of an illiterate kindergartner from a "high risk" neighborhood as an example of student who could be affected by budget cuts. The segment ran during the 8 a.m. EDT hour of Tuesday's American Morning on CNN.

CNN featured a young girl from a "high risk" school district, who needs a literacy tutor to ensure she can read at her classmates' level. CNN then aired Trenton Public School superintendent Raymond Broach's dour reaction to the $12 million cut from the district's budget last year. "You've just made that race for some learners almost next to impossible," he told CNN.

American Morningco-host Christine Romans reported the education cuts as totaling "a whopping billion dollars." Actually, Gov. Christie cut state aid to schools last year by $820 million - a figure close to $1 billion, and yet a full $180 million short.

CNN played a brief Gov. Christie soundbite, which was not from an exclusive interview, but from a town hall meeting. His quote, standing on its own, didn't even pertain to the segment. They then reported that his cuts may be ruled unconstitutional by the state's Supreme Court in the case Abbott vs. Burke. A New Jersey school-advocacy organization initiated the case in filing a motion stating that Christie's cuts went against the state's school funding law.

CNN interviewed the group's head, David Sciarra of the Education Law Center, and briefly aired his critique of the budget.

All told, CNN featured an illiterate kindergartner, the like of whom could be affected by the education cuts, as well as the plaintiff of a lawsuit against the state and the superintendent of a lower-income school district, in covering budget cuts to education. For the state's side, they simply aired a brief soundbite from Gov. Christie from a town hall meeting.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on April 26 at 8:27 a.m. EDT, is as follows:

CHRISTINE ROMANS: All right. State budget cuts. It sounds like a big, I don't know, political story, right? But it's not because kids are caught in the middle of this fight across the country right now. One state cut a whopping billion dollars from its education budget.

ALI VELSHI: And now, top officials there are face a lawsuit. Deborah Fayerick takes a look at education in America from New Jersey this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kindergartner Camani Davidson (ph), is learning to read. Though she's is still very young, because she lives in a high risk neighborhood in New Jersey, educators here at P.J. Hill Elementary provide a literacy coach to make sure she doesn't fall behind.

RAYMOND BROACH, TRENTON PUBLIC SCHOOL: It's sort of like being in a race to assume we all start at the starting line together. It's not American even.

FEYERICK: Acting superintendent, Raymond Broach, oversees the Trenton School District. It has a higher number of at-risk kids, and is supposed to receive a larger share of state funding than schools in wealthier neighborhoods. Last year, the state gave him no extra budget money. Incredibly, he wishes the same were true now.

BROACH: When you've had $12 million cut from your budget, you've just made that race for some learners almost next to impossible.

FEYERICK: A 2008 state law and funding formula was designed to close the learning gap between rich and poor students, but first-time Governor Chris Christie cut $1 million from New Jersey's education budget. At a town hall meeting, he said tough times call for tough choices.

New Jersey GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R): Maybe we have to eliminate aid to all hospitals in New Jersey. I wonder how many hospitals will close, and we have to do that.

FEYERICK: The problem - the decision may be unconstitutional.

DAVID SCIARRA, executive director, Education Law Center: Governors all across the country are saying the same thing, and they're wrong.

FEYERICK: David Sciarra's Education Law Center and others are suing the governor in state Supreme Court.

SCIARRA: It's really a matter of policy choice, it's a matter of commitment. Do we want to have strong public schools or not?

FEYERICK: The state argues courts should let the legislature decide how much money is spent. As for Superintendent Broach, his choice was to keep reading coaches. Instead, he cut nurses, social workers, substance abuse counselors, custodians, and others. His reasoning -

BROACH: To know you can't read often turns students' attention to being discipline problems. Those are the students that we fear we need to put a web of support around so that they don't drop out of school and for that matter, drop out of society.

FEYERICK: Deborah Feyerick, CNN, Trenton, New Jersey.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: I mean, it's clear, budget cuts are something that will affect schools across the country.

VELSHI: Yep.

ROMANS: So, this is really how you feel finances on the state -

VELSHI: Yep. Yep. I think actually the closer you get to whether it's state or municipal is where you really feel it -

ROMANS: Oh, yes.

VELSHI: The state budget cuts affect municipalities which where you get your garbage taken out or your snow cleaned from your streets or, you know, ambulances.

ROMANS: Right. Or pre-kindergarten programs and the like. OK. Be sure to watch "Don't Fail Me: Education in America." It's a Soledad O'Brien special report, taking a look at our public education system and how it may affect the financial future of America. "DON'T FAIL ME" premieres Sunday May 15th, 08:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

- Matt Hadro is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center.