In State of NJ Address, Christie Mentions School Choice, Vouchers

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In New Jersey Governor’s Chris Christie’s State of the State address delivered earlier this week, the governor called for additional reforms in education, particularly through an increase in school choice via a scholarship program using vouchers.

Christie’s speech began with the improvements the state has made in education over the past few years, including tenure reform, the expansion of charter schools, performance-based pay in Newark, and the “re-energized public education” in Camden.

Despite all this, Christie discussed passing the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a pilot program that would offer parents residing in eight districts to gain scholarships that would allow their children to attend a different school, calling it “a great first step.”  An equal tax credit would be available for those who donate to the program, writes Diane D’Amico for Press of Atlantic City.

“Let’s keep driving for better outcomes, and let’s give parents and students more choices, not less,” Christie said.

In a statement, Janellen Duffy, executive director of the JerseyCAN education advocacy group, said that all options must be available to all families where there is a need for high quality education options.  And those options include the Opportunity Scholarship Act.

“We are pleased to see the Governor continue to push for it,” Duffy said.

However, not everyone agrees with the program.  In a statement issued by the group Save Our Schools, the program was referred to as a “disaster.”

“They divert critically needed funding from public schools to private and religious ones, and they have failed academically in every state that has tried them. This appears to be a gesture intended to serve Gov. Christie’s national political ambitions rather than the people of New Jersey.”

The legislation for the program had previously been dropped after not gaining enough support for passage two years ago.

While it is unclear why the bill has suddenly made a reappearance, one thought is that Christie is trying to score points with conservatives, as he looks towards a 2016 presidential run.  Some believe that he needs to retrench his support, as his main rivals, such as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, hail from states that have school voucher programs, reports John Mooney for NJSpotlight.

Christie’s speech also discussed the record amount of aid given to public schools over the last four years, totaling almost $12 billion.

Despite this funding, one lingering problem is the $90 billion pension shortfall. Christie added that an increased investment into the K-12 program depends on “our willingness to control the smothering cost of entitlements.”

No mention was made concerning how the upcoming state budget will affect the school districts.