By Matthew Arco
PATERSON – Gov. Chris Christie told Paterson residents that failing public schools and lawmakers unwilling to enact change in the state’s education system are robbing New Jersey’s urban students of a future.
Garnering applause as well as sharp criticism from at least one town hall resident who shouted at Christie to “fix our public schools,” the governor told residents the very lawmakers who represent urban districts are the ones harming their constituents.
“We have an African American female speaker of the Assembly,” said Christie, speaking about a school voucher system.
“The very people who represent urban New Jersey … blocked this,” he said. “She refused to let people vote on this bill.”
Christie spoke for nearly an hour-and-a-half at what was largely a tame town hall meeting.
That is, until the subject of failing public schools came up.
“I don’t know how that empowers urban New Jersey,” Christie said of Speaker Sheila Oliver’s decision not to allow a school voucher bill to hit the floor of the General Assembly.
“If you’re in a failing public school it means we’re failing you,” said Christie, arguing children are being “robbed” of a future and saying that if lawmakers refuse to allow competition then residents will “vote with their feet” by moving.
“They tell me that I don’t understand, … [but] they’re dead wrong,” he said. “My parents moved us out [of Newark] when I was 5 years old because they became convinced that I wouldn’t be able to get a good education in Newark.”
The topic drew Christie to step closer to the audience inside St. Luke’s Baptist Church while delivering his answer to a question about urban education.
“There is nothing that angers me more than going into urban school settings and watching kids fail and looking at parents who say, ‘I have no option,’” said Christie, saying he doesn’t want to eliminate public schools, he wants to bring competition into failing districts.
His comments drew some applause, but also some shouting, specifically from one man who repeatedly yelled, “Fix the public schools!”
“You can yell all you want about fix the public schools,” he said, adding it won’t happen until “you give me the chance to set up competition.”
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