For all of her differences with her boss, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno yesterday made clear in one of her first policy talks as a candidate for governor that charter schools and school choice are not among them.
Guadagno spoke before a group of charter advocates at the annual School Choice Summit. After remaining long-silent on many public policy issues, she made clear that she fully supported Gov. Chris Christie’s agenda to expand charter schools in New Jersey — and might even take it further if elected governor.
In an interview afterward, she voiced few reservations about charter expansion in New Jersey, even in suburban districts, and added that she would push ahead with Christie’s plans for private school vouchers as well.
“I don’t know how anyone can walk away from charter schools,” she said in the interview. “Forget just the numbers, just the fact there is a line out the door to get into these schools … We have to fight to keep these schools open.”
The public comments, among her first since announcing she would be a Republican candidate for governor last week, were made against the backdrop of a cooling relationship with Christie, who avoided endorsing her this week.
At the same time, the inauguration of a new president and his nomination of a staunch charter and choice advocate as his education secretary have given new juice to the charter school and school choice movement, including the possibility of billions in new federal money.
Meanwhile, Democratic candidates for governor, led by frontrunner Phil Murphy, have been far cooler to charter schools. Murphy has called for a pause in the approval of new schools, while the state’s record is reviewed.
Yet Guadagno yesterday didn’t shy from the issue, and even supported the proposal from the president, even if few details have been released, saying New Jersey would be foolish to pass up the opportunity.
“There would certainly be a lot of explaining to do for not applying to any of this federal funding,” Guadagno said. “How we could not apply for federal funding like that would be amazing to me.”
The daylong summit drew about 100 people by midmorning to a conference room at The College of New Jersey, including a mix of charter and choice advocates and a few critics as well.
Guadagno was the initial speaker and provided some of the first glimpses of where she stands on education policy of any sort. In a brief address, she ran through a litany of statistics — some controversial — that she said were evidence of how charter schools outperform their host-district schools.
“You can talk to me as a Republican or Democrat or as a politician, but talk to me about the numbers,” she said. “And the numbers for charter schools in New Jersey are stunning.”
When asked afterward whether she made a distinction when it came to the expansion of charter schools in higher-performing districts, she did not rule it out — although appeared to hedge her comments.
She cited the ongoing battle in Red Bank over the Red Bank Charter School, including a legal challenge that the school is discriminatory in its enrollment. She then added she didn’t know enough about the case to comment.
“It’s not a distinction as much as a reality for me,” she said. “You can’t argue with the numbers when you go to Newark, Camden, Trenton, and Jersey City, the numbers speak for themselves.”
Guadagno also spoke in favor of private school vouchers, and specifically Christie’s ongoing proposal to fund the proposed Opportunity Scholarship Act that would provide tax credits for funding vouchers to low-income students. The proposal in each of the last few state budgets has yet to gain much, if any, traction in the Legislature.
“If you are paying money in property taxes to put kids in school, it shouldn’t matter what school,” Guadagno said yesterday. “Why not do a pilot project to see what happens?”
Even the staunchest voucher proponents yesterday weren’t holding out too much hope for a voucher plan in New Jersey, but they said there is some momentum for charters with the new president — albeit with some caution.
“The story of choice is really state by state,” said Steve Looney, a trustee of Excellent Education for All, the longtime pro-voucher organization that was among the main sponsors of yesterday’s event.
“The federal government setting the tone is probably helpful and might provide some money,” he said. “But it will probably be for states that are choice-oriented, and we’ll see where that goes.”