November 4, 2009
by Thomas W. Carroll President of the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability
The Huffington Post
The election of Chris Christie as New Jersey’s governor will thrust New Jersey into the national spotlight as a key battleground state on education reform. Christie is strongly committed to strengthening New Jersey’s weak charter-school law, and pushing through an education tax credit focused on low-income students trapped in failing schools.
Charter schools and education tax credits are opposed by the NJEA, the New Jersey teachers union, which was on the losing end of the gubernatorial election.
New Jersey has a lot of room for improvement. Corzine in 2008 only approved one charter school out of 22 applications — a sign that his rhetorical support for charter schools may have been constrained by his political relationship with NJEA.
The election of a governor who favors school choice also puts the spotlight again on high-profile Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat who has been one of the most outspoken national champions of school choice. With Corzine as governor, Booker had the ready excuse that he could not do much on the issue. Now, with Christie, Booker has a “stand and deliver” moment of his own.
But, this is where the politics get interesting. Booker, by many accounts, would like to be New Jersey’s next governor. So, does he roll up his sleeves and help Christie achieve Booker’s signature issue? That would be a big policy win for Booker, but would it help strengthen Christie, his likely opponent in four years? Good questions for Conan to pose the next time Booker goes on his show.
Any actions Christie takes also could shake up the state competition for federal Race to the Top dollars. New Jersey had not been considered a serious contender, but that could change overnight if Christie moves quickly and boldly.
Below are the unedited passages from Christie’s platform that concern education:
EDUCATING OUR CHILDREN
I will devote more resources to assist parents and educators attempting to start new charter schools by utilizing my revamped Department of Education (DOE) to encourage and nurture those seeking to start a charter school.
I will appoint a Commissioner of the Department of Education whose priority will be approving high-quality charter school applications, unlike the Corzine Administration, who in 2008 approved only one of twenty-two applications.
I will ensure that the application of the school funding law treats charter schools fairly, and that state aid follows the child to the charter school, as the law intended.
I will eliminate the role that school boards in failing districts play in the charter school application process.
I will expand the existing inter-district school choice program to allow children attending chronically failing schools to seek admission to any public school with available space willing to accept them. This “dollars-follow-the-child” model would encourage low-cost, successful school districts to voluntarily admit children from failing, high-cost districts.
I will give greater management authority to successful public schools in failing school districts to give greater budgetary and personnel authority to building principals.
I will create a tuition tax credit scholarship program for low-income students in failing schools to attend public and non-public schools that agree to admit any applying student and accept the scholarship as payment-in-full.
I will meet with all state college, university and community college presidents on a regular basis to ensure our college presidents have a real seat at the table in Trenton, not a backseat.
I will make sure the Executive Director of the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education is my advisor on higher education and ensure he/she has a seat at all Cabinet meetings.
I will reinstate the Higher Education Incentive Endowment Program to spur private investment in higher education and help with tuition stabilization, scholarships, recruiting faculty and building new classroom and research facilities by providing state matching funds for endowment contributions of at least $1 million at a rate of 10 percent per year, helping to encourage and reward attainment of major private gifts.
I will create a new “Outstanding Scholars” program to provide public and independent institutions of higher education with campus-based funding to recruit high achieving New Jersey students as measured by class rank and SAT scores.
I will ensure the New Jersey Educational Opportunity Fund specifically provides and expands the mentoring and tutoring component to provide each student personalized counsel and track their progress from the time they begin their higher education experience until graduation.
I will enact the “Putting New Jersey Back to Work” program to connect community colleges with businesses needing to train new employees with a particular skill-set.
I will add two college presidents to my “New Jersey Partnership For Action” to ensure our state’s businesses have access to skilled workers in the appropriate fields and to tie in our economic development plans to ensure New Jerseyans have the right skill sets for today’s emerging industries.
I will provide grants for public four year institutions and community colleges to ensure four year institutions and community colleges are offering curriculum and training to prepare the New Jersey workforce for jobs in the wind and solar industry.
I will offer challenge grants to colleges with existing teaching certification programs to help develop and implement innovative training and professional development programs.