Chris Christie likely to revive school voucher debate in New Jersey
Tuesday night Chris Christie was reelected as New Jersey's governor by a margin of 60 percent to Barbara Buono's 38 percent. While 22 points isn't shabby, it's not the margin of victory lusted after by those who see SuperFleece as the next American president.
Nonetheless, Christie proved that a moderate Republican, at least against a weak opponent, can appeal to the traditional N.J. Democratic base of Latinos, blacks, and your average Joe. Jane voted red too: according to a CNN exit poll, 56 percent of women voted for Christie, despite the first all-female slate with Barbara Buono and Milly Silva.
Christie's challenge now is to use is ''mandate'' to try to complete his mission.
Christie's 2nd term education agenda
In the realm of public education, Christie's list of unfinished business is short. In his first term he ushered through teacher tenure reform, a new principal and teacher evaluation system infused with student growth data, pension and health benefits reform, 2% tax cap increases for school districts, and expansion of charter schools.
Two"big things" remain for him to "finish the job": passing the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA) and reshaping the state Supreme Court in order to overturn N.J.'s current school funding formula. What are the odds of him crossing these items off his "to do" list in his brief tenure before he heads off for the wilds of Iowa?
OSA: vouchers are near and dear to Christie's red heart, and a primary reason for his support among leaders in the Latino and black communities.
The original version of OSA, sponsored by GOP Senator Tom Kean, Jr., posited a five-year program to award scholarships to private and parochial students in 13 failing school districts funded through corporate tax credits.
A more modest (and better) Assembly version, sponsored by Democratic Assemblymen Angel Fuentes and Lou Greenwald, limited enrollment to seven districts for a four-year pilot.
Neither version passed muster among legislators, largely because vouchers are savagely opposed by NJEA. In last year's proposed state budget, the Governor snuck in a one-year $2 billion line program (Sen. Ray Lesniak disparagingly referred to it as a "teeny-weeny voucher bill") that would provide non-public options for 200 poor kids. That pipedream died an instant death.
Can Christie heave OSA up through that gauntlet of opposition? Seems unlikely, but he's going to try. His best bet is resuscitation of the Assembly bill with even stricter restrictions.
The Governor has a no fuzzy feelings for either the state Supreme Court's Abbott decisions, which funnel lots of extra money to 31 poor districts, or for the School Funding Reform Act (intended to replace Abbott), which spreads the money to poor kids regardless of zip code. There's nothing subtle about his intentions to ice our "liberal activist court" but Democrats have rejected several of his nominees. That trend's unlikely to change.
I don't mean to be such a sourpuss. The Governor is a whiz at barreling through obstacles, and he does have that winged fleece. But a Jersey attitude only gets you so far.
Laura Waters is president of the Lawrence Township School Board in Mercer County. She also writes about New Jersey's public education on her blog NJ Left Behind. Follow her on Twitter @NJLeftbehind.
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