Assemblywoman Marlene Caride is a relative novice to New Jersey’s rancorous debates over education policy.
The five-year Democratic legislator has sponsored a few bills dealing with Internet privacy in schools and the extent of online testing.
But serving on committees like insurance, transportation and commerce, the southern Bergen County assemblywoman has not been a big voice in the big issues that dominate the state’s debates over public education.
That’s about to change.
After weeks of speculation, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto yesterday officially named Caride to be the next chair of the Assembly Education Committee, an influential role as the Assembly’s gatekeeper of education bills and policy.
Going back with the Speaker more than 20 years in Hudson County, where she grew up and went to school, the Cuban-American Caride takes the helm of one of the State House’s highest-profile forums on education law and policy.
A Union City attorney by trade and a Ridgefield resident, Caride replaces Sen. Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex), who had led the Assembly committee for 14 years years before he was appointed to fill his state Senate seat earlier this year.
Under Diegnan, the education committee had been a prominent place for debate over school testing and charter schools, to name just two topics, and Diegnan had been a vocal opponent against Gov. Chris Christie’s education policies.
Prieto’s pick of Caride to replace him comes as something of a surprise to advocates and others closely following education policy in the state. Prieto passed over other far more notable names on education issues in the Assembly, such as state Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex), chair of the higher education committee, and state Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), the education committee’s vice chairman.
In an interview with NJ Spotlight yesterday, Caride said education was always a topic of interest since she was elected to the Assembly five years ago, and she looks forward to diving into the issues.
While she does not have a signature bill or topic herself, she said her prime focus will be on helping New Jersey’s school children.
“I know I have big shoes to fill, as Pat Diegnan did an excellent job,” she said. “I look forward to learning all there is to learn.”
Don’t expect a big shift in direction, however. Like Diegnan, Caride leans left on the big education issues — from calling for a pause in high-stakes testing to pushing back against the Christie administration’s embrace of charter schools.
Yesterday, for instance, she took her stand against Gov. Chris Christie’s latest proposals to loosen regulation further on charter schools, including teacher certification.
”I don’t want to start building a two-tier standard,” she said. “Charter schools are still part of the public school system.”
Prieto in a press release praised Caride as first and foremost an advocate for children.
“Strong leadership in the education committee is vital and I have no doubt Assemblywoman Caride will deliver,” read the statement.
“I am certain Assemblywoman Caride will lead the committee in the direction necessary to ensure that our children meet their full academic potential.”
She also won a quick endorsement from the president of the New Jersey Education Association, the teachers union.
“NJEA is very pleased that Assemblywoman Caride has been named to such an important position,” read a statement from NJEA president Wendell Steinhauer. “Her long record of support for public education makes us confident that she will be an advocate in the Legislature for students and educators.”