By Jenna Portnoy
TEANECK — A month before the election, Gov. Chris Christie today launched a blistering attack on lawmakers representing urban districts and the state’s largest teachers union for helping to create dysfunctional public schools that he called “failure factories.”
The Republican governor said there are solutions. He favors vouchers, expanding charter schools and extending state dollars for special education to Jewish day schools. He made the comments at Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck during a breakfast sponsored by the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, the lobbying arm of a national group representing Orthodox Jewish synagogues.
“If you care about the issue of educational choice,” Christie said, “you all better figure out where everybody who’s on the ballot in November stands on this issue. And don’t let them give you the who-ha about, ‘Well I love public education. I don’t want any dollar taken away from public education.’
“I would be happy to take as many dollars as possible away from failure factories that send children on a no-stop route to prison and to failed dreams, if we could take that money and put it into a place where those families have hope,” he said.
Christie addresses Orthodox Jewish community in TeaneckGovernor Chris Christie attends an annual breakfast meeting of more than 500 members from the Orthodox Union where he talked about the failures of New Jersey’s education system. The event was held at the Congregation Keter Torah.
Without mentioning her name, Christie said his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Barbara Buono is OK with having 200 out of 2,200 New Jersey schools qualify as failing. (Christie’s campaign said he was referring to statement Buono made in 2011 when she said she didn’t think 200 was a “bad percentage.”)
“You actually have people seeking high office in this state who say that having 200 schools that are failing in New Jersey is acceptable,” he said.
Buono’s campaign struck back with a dig against Christie, who has turned down invitations to visit the decaying Trenton Central High School building, where Buono spoke on Thursday.
“Governor Christie’s comments would be laughable if they weren’t patently false,” spokesman David Turner said. “In his first year in office, he cut school funding by $1 billion and New Jersey’s students are still dealing with the consequences. Moreover, the governor’s refusal to visit Trenton High School’s crumbling campus speaks volumes about his lack of commitment to education.”
During his 30-minute speech, in a reference to the New Jersey Education Association, Christie said he’s withstood more than $20 million in television ads targeting his record. He went on to blame “adults entrenched in the system” who enjoy “higher benefits, higher salaries and lifetime pensions.”
Noting the many state lawmakers in the audience, Christie said: “The next 30 days defines what they really care about. Politicians are easy, everybody, we want to win… I don’t care if you’re Republican, Democrat, independent, I don’t care if you’re a Communist, the goal is to win and be in authority so you can govern.”
In addition to the governor, all seats in the state Legislature will be on the Nov. 5 ballot.
U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell said he opposes vouchers, what he called “universal choice,” but supported charter school education before it was popular.
“I personally believe that the NJEA believes in good education for everybody,” Pascrell said in an interview after Christie’s speech, “and the NJEA has changed over that last 20 years, but that’s something they’re not going to back off of, directing public dollars to what some would like to have as a private institution. They don’t believe in that and I don’t believe in that.”
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) said not many people in her district would benefit from the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a voucher program proposed by the Christie administration to give students in low-performing districts up to $10,000 for private school tuition. Though she supports the charter school concept, she said they don’t all work in practice.
“We heard today very upbeat, positive remarks on how great charter schools are. We also have failing charter schools. We also have charter schools that do not have oversight so we need to look at comprehensive public school education, including charter schools,” Huttle said, adding: “I think there was a lot of political rhetoric in his speech this morning.”
The Orthodox Union is nonpartisan.
The cover of the group’s national brochure features a picture of President Obama next to one of House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and inside there is a photo of Christie arm in arm with Josh Pruzansky, the organization’s New Jersey director, at the Western Wall during Christie’s trip to Israel last year.
Before Christie’s speech, the Orthodox Union gave Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) and Huttle an award for sponsoring a bill that would extend special education credits to Jewish day schools. The bill awaits a vote in the full Legislature.