TRENTON, N.J. – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is taking another stab at implementing the final missing piece of his education reform agenda – a private school voucher program.
But the program he’s proposing would be very limited in scope.
Christie has managed to reform teacher tenure, expand charter schools, and install performance pay for teachers, but an ambitious $1 billion private school voucher proposal he backed in 2010 stalled in the state legislature, NJSpotlight.com reports.
In his fourth state budget, Christie reintroduced a drastically scaled down version of his original plan, which will give $2 million in “Opportunity Scholarship Grants” to low income students through corporate tax credits.
“Just how far will $2 million go? It’s enough to award $10,000 vouchers to 200 low-income students in the state’s lowest-performing schools …” the news site reports.
The 200 students in Christie’s new proposal is a far cry from the 40,000 that would have potentially benefitted from his original voucher plan, but it appears the governor is simply using the pilot program to wedge the door open for a more ambitious effort.
“These grants will show that choice can work, even – indeed, especially – in some of our most underperforming school districts,” Christie said, according to NJSpotlight.com.
The new approach appears to have won Christie some unlikely supporters.
“With a pilot, you find out how it works, what kinds of schools parents choose. I’m interested in hearing what he has to offer,” Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, D-Essex, told NJSpotlight.com.
Others familiar with the life-changing influence a private school voucher can have on a struggling student seem underwhelmed by the “teeny, teeny, teeny” program.
“Urban education needs a huge face-lift, but (Christie’s 2010 voucher legislation) did not have enough support,” state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, told the news site. “But this is too small a model to have an impact.”
The New Jersey Education Association, meanwhile, is already plotting its strategy to kill the proposal and keep students trapped in failing, unionized government schools.
“There is no indication you can do this through the budget process …” NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer told NJSpotlight.com.