Trenton, NJ – A voucher system that lets any child in New Jersey go to any school, public or private, is the “final solution” to an overly expensive system that continues to fail too many children, Governor Christie said Monday.
Christie told an enthusiastic school choice advocacy group in Washington that he will expand the number of public charter schools and supports a bipartisan bill to provide thousands of public scholarships so children in failing districts may attend private or parochial schools.
“They are trapped by a self-interested, greedy schoolteachers union that cares more about putting money in their own pockets and pockets of members than they care about educating the most vulnerable and needy children,” Christie said.
But Christie said he was committed to going further. He said he saw families in Newark agonize over children losing a lottery to get into a successful charter school, while his income gave him the ability to choose to send his children to Catholic school.
“A single mother in Newark working two jobs to keep a roof over her child’s head should have no less ability to make that choice than my wife and I had,” he said.
Christie was the keynote speaker at the two-day “national policy summit” in the Omni Shoreham hotel organized by the American Federation for Children, a Washington-based group that advocates for vouchers, charter schools and tax credits for corporations that fund scholarships.
“Gov Christie is taking on the education status quo like no other governor today,” said Betsy Devos, the federation chairwoman,
Christie said the climate is right for passage of a scholarship bill that some advocates say could serve as many as 24,000 children. It is sponsored by Sens. Raymond Lesniak, D-Elizabeth, and Thomas H. Kean Jr., R-Westfield, and will have its first hearing later this month.
A broad coalition including the head of the state Black Ministers Council, traditionally a power base for Democrats, supports the bill.
“If it doesn’t happen now, I’m not sure it’s ever going to happen,” said the Rev. Reginald Jackson, who attended the dinner.
Christie said New Jersey could be a national bellwether.
“If we can make this happen in New Jersey over course of next four years, there is no excuse anyone anywhere not to get this done,” he said.
Steve Baker of the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said in a phone interview from Trenton that vouchers divert money from public education at a time Christie has already ordered deep budget cuts.
“To talk about taking more money out of the state budget and dedicating it to providing subsidies for private education, it’s incredibly misguided priorities,” Baker said. “It’s fundamentally a matter of whether public education is public or not.”
Baker said that if schools are failing, giving the money that’s being spent on them to other schools won’t fix them, Baker said. The public needs to provide the resources to help them perform, and data have shown New Jersey among the nation’s leaders in closing the gap between the best schools and the worst, he said.
But Jackson said annually increasing budgets did not produce needed results.
Christie used public funds to pay for the overnight trip for himself, his wife and staff to Washington. He will attend a political fund-raiser in Washington Tuesday morning before going back to New Jersey, a spokeswoman said.