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Christie May Shut Schools, Expand Charter Program

Thursday, 13 Jan 2011 07:54 PM

 

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Jan. 13 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he’ll seek to shut failing schools and intends to release a plan as soon as next week to create more charter institutions.

The state should let charter operators take over the buildings of schools that have been shuttered, Christie, a first-term Republican, said at a town-hall meeting in Paramus. There are 104,000 students in the state who attend public schools deemed chronically failing, Christie said.

“We need to close them and start over,” Christie told a capacity crowd of 500 today at the gathering in an Elks lodge. “This is the fight. There’s no staying neutral. You have to choose sides.”

Christie, in his first State of the State speech on Jan. 11, said it would be a top priority this year to expand the charter-school program beyond the six his administration approved and the 73 operating in the state.

The governor has said New Jersey’s public-education system is too costly and failing many children. He proposed changes in September that include linking teachers’ pay and tenure to their students’ performance, and making it easier for districts to fire their worst educators.

Christie told The Wall Street Journal editorial board yesterday that he is seeking to end tenure and would support switching to a system that gives teachers five-year contracts that could be renewed based on merit.

The town-hall meeting was the 18th that Christie has held to discuss his proposals for overhauling government. The gatherings, which are videotaped by his office and broadcast on the Internet, have helped make Christie a YouTube sensation, in part because of his quarrels with teachers.

Christie said elementary students at Robert Treat Academy, a charter school in Newark, outperform those in city schools. Robert Treat spends about $14,000 per pupil compared with a statewide average of $17,600, the highest in the U.S., he said.

Charter schools are nonsectarian, public institutions that operate independently of local boards of education in the U.S. under special charters.

“Charters are part of the landscape in New Jersey and they have the potential to be part of the effort to make sure that every student has access to great public schools,” said Steve Baker, spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, a 200,000-member teachers union that Christie has accused of blocking efforts to improve schools. “But they’re not the only solution, they’re not a panacea, and they’re not inherently better than other public-school options.”

Christie “is adamant about slashing funds to the very schools that he claims are not performing up to standards,” Baker said in a telephone interview. “You’re not going to fix the problem by putting the word charter into a school’s name.”

The governor, in this week’s speech, said he would strive to reduce the costs of government pensions, benefits, and education as he seeks to balance the budget without raising taxes. He may face a deficit next year equivalent to more than a third of his current $29.4 billion budget, the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services projected in July.

Christie wants all public employees in New Jersey to contribute more than the current 1.5 percent of salary toward their health benefits.

“We have to have a plan where everyone has some skin in the game,” Christie said. “Right now, 1.5 percent is just something we can’t afford. Everyone knows that, but they won’t say it.”

Healthcare costs “will bankrupt’ the state unless it requires workers to pay more for medical coverage, Christie said today.

The state will spend $4.3 billion on health insurance this year, and that cost will rise 40 percent within four years, Christie said. The governor wants to increase employee contributions toward pensions and benefits, and raise co-pays for doctor care.


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