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School Vouchers Not Dead Yet, At Least in Governor Christie’s Eyes

Teacher evaluation framework for tenure reform hardly a surprise as second priority for education agenda

christie
Credit: Governor's Office/Tim Larsen

Defeated again in his latest try for a school voucher program, Gov. Chris Christie yesterday said he isn’t giving up just yet on the proposed Opportunity Scholarship Act, even if the Legislature doesn’t appear to be going along.

When asked his top priorities going forward with what has been a busy education agenda, Christie said at a press conference that passing the long-debated, long-stalled school voucher bill is No. 1.

“I think it is very important in districts where the public schools are failing to give parents an option to go someplace else,” Christie said. “I think that’s a very important priority.”

As Christie runs for reelection this fall against Democratic challenger Barbara Buono, the voucher proposal has been the one major piece of the governor’s education platform yet to be realized. The Legislature came close a few times but never mustered the votes for even a limited pilot program.

Christie tried a new tack in his latest state budget, inserting $2 million for an even smaller pilot in one or two districts, but the Democratic-led Legislature pulled that, too.

When asked if a new bill was forthcoming that his administration would back, Christie yesterday pinned his hopes on the lame-duck session after the upcoming election.

“It will be after the election, I don’t see it happening before then,” he said. “Miracles happen in lame-duck after elections, so let’s see. We’ll certainly be focused on it.”

The governor listed a second priority as well, the implementation of the teacher evaluation framework that is at the heart of the new tenure reform law. Schools statewide are required this fall to have evaluation systems in place for measuring teachers, using student performance as one of the parameters

“I want to make sure we implement this evaluation system we have going in a way that makes sense and that works for not only the students and families, but also for the teachers that are being evaluated,” Christie said yesterday. “The credibility of the program lies in its implementation.”

“It is definitely a priority of ours that it is implemented in the right way, and that we get good results from it,” he said. “We want those that merit tenure and do a good job get [tenure], and those that don’t do a good job to lose their tenure and move on to another profession.”

In response to reporters’ questions, Christie also used the occasion of a Shore elementary school reopening to attack Buono’s newly announced education platform, calling it “pie and the sky.”

Buono, a state Senator from Middlesex County, on Tuesday laid out an extensive plan, including expanded preschool and all-day kindergarten and a fully funded school finance formula. She did not detail how she would pay for her plan, except saying that a restoration of the “millionaires tax” would be part of the mix. Christie has strongly opposed the income tax increase.

“I’d like to hand out $100 bills on the corner, too,” Christie said yesterday. “Senator Buono’s proposal was short on one main area, how is she going to pay for it.”

When twice asked if he would support expanding preschool -- a program he called “glorified babysitting” in his last gubernatorial campaign -- Christie ducked the question.

“The substance doesn’t matter, unless she shows how she’ll pay for it,” he said.

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