Bloomberg News

Christie Expects to Win Passage of Limited School-Voucher Program in 2012

March 02, 2012

New Jersey (STONJ1) Governor Chris Christie said he expects to win passage of a limited school-voucher program this year, even as the state’s largest teachers union tries to block it.

Christie, a 49-year-old Republican in his first term, said he’s going to push for a voucher pilot program as well as proposals to tie teacher evaluations to student performance and pay educators more in underperforming districts.

“We’re going to get some form of a limited voucher program this year,” Christie said today during an appearance on MSNBC. “The last two years have been about fights and getting the people of New Jersey aware of the fact that it’s immoral to spend $24,000 per student in Newark and most of them won’t graduate.”

Christie, who called 2011 “the year of education reform,” was unable to win approval of measures to offer privately funded vouchers to students from poor families, institute merit pay for teachers and make it easier for administrators to fire educators deemed inadequate. The governor is still urging lawmakers to pass those proposals, saying education remains a priority.

Union Fights

In January, Christie signed a bill that gives private firms the authority to run failing public schools in three inner-city districts. The so-called Urban Hope Act was his first legislative victory for a four-bill education overhaul.

The governor has feuded with the New Jersey Education Association since taking office in January 2010. Christie has said 100,000 children are trapped in 200 failing schools, even as the state spends an average of $17,700 per student, more than any other state.

Christie in April 2010 urged parents to reject school budgets in districts where teachers refused to accept wage freezes, and accused educators of using children like “drug mules” to carry union messages. In an ABC News interview, he called New Jersey teachers “wonderful public servants” and their union’s leaders “political thugs.”

Last month, Christie said the NJEA’s executive director should be fired for comments he made about poor schoolchildren.

“Good teachers: Awful union,” he said today.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration agreed last month with that state’s largest teachers union on an evaluation system that would allow officials to fire the worst educators. The deal was reached after Cuomo, 54, a Democrat, threatened to insert his own evaluation plan into the budget.

‘Fewer Resources’

The New Jersey teachers union has said Christie’s evaluation plan would rely too heavily on standardized tests for teacher evaluations. Vouchers would take money out of poor schools and would allow some students to transfer rather than concentrate on improving at-risk institutions, said Steve Wollmer, a spokesman for the NJEA.

“It doesn’t work in the real world -- there’s no broad support for vouchers,” Wollmer said in a telephone interview today. “You’re taking just a few kids out, and the remaining 90 percent are left behind with fewer resources.”

Christie appeared on MSNBC as part of a panel on fixing the nation’s public schools, held at Fort Lee High School in New Jersey, that also included Democratic governors Jack Markell of Delaware and Dannel Malloy of Connecticut as well as former Washington public schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

Malloy said Feb. 8 he wants to overhaul tenure rules and link teacher evaluations to student performance. Teachers unions have signed on to the drafts of that plan, he said today.

“We need to get out of our box, out of our comfort zone,” Malloy said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Terrence Dopp in Trenton at tdopp@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net


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