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A Conversation with Governor Chris Christie on Education

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has made education reform a top priority of his administration.  Whether the topic is teacher tenure, a new evaluation system, or charter schools and choice, Governor Christie wants to move from the status quo.  In addition to education reform initiatives, host Ray Pinney will discuss issues, such as school funding, and will ask the governor which specific education policy changes he hopes to achieve in the next 12 month.


0:15 Ray Pinney

Good afternoon and welcome to NJSBA's Blog Talk Radio show Conversations on New Jersey Education. A show dedicated to creating a conversation among those of us in education community and beyond on important education issues throughout the day, a conversation that brings the state leaders to you. My name is Ray Pinney and I'll be your host this afternoon. Today, we'll have a different format, we will not be having or taking calls or opening the chat room, but we are very fortunate to have with us as a guest to speak on education issues. This is really someone who does not need any introduction. He is New Jersey's most recognizable politician, Governor Chris Christie. We know that over the last two weeks, Governor Chris Christie has spent a great deal of time preparing for surviving and then the hardest part, helping the State in the citizens' cleanup after hurricane Irene. So, we were so glad that he could join us so soon after the storm. When I interviewed Governor Christie for NJSBA's magazine school leader, we were a group of notarial candidate and you said at the time, "No one should underestimate your commitment to education." Now, even I think you're hardships could have -- I cannot say that you'll put education issues on the back burner or relegated them to secondary status, though I'm sure that some of them wish that you may have. Governor Christie, I hope you're there on the line. Are you on? Alright, I know he's on there. We are waiting. Governor Christie?

1:45 Operator

Oh we're having some connectivity issues. Ray, my apologies. We should have the Governor on in less than a minute.

1:50 Ray Pinney

Okay. So we will hold. Just to let the listeners know the way this is gonna work. I'm gonna start it off with a couple of general questions and my format is I'll be going through the issues. I will be starting with teacher tenure, teacher evaluations, government dentist's school choice, charter schools, vouchers and then now some school funding issues and his relationships with the legislator. Hello!

2:18 Governor Chris Christie


2:19 Ray Pinney

Hi! Yes! Is this Governor Christie? Thank you for joining us.

2:22 Governor Chris Christie

My pleasure.

2:24 Ray Pinney

Okay. I gave you a great introduction. I hope you heard it.

2:28 Governor Chris Christie


2:30 Ray Pinney

Before I get into my education questions, I want you to be honest with me and -- because I'm a Met fan and so are you and this may upset some of your constituents. As a Met fan and now as governor, do you wanna see the Phillies and the Yankees in the World Series?

2:44 Governor Chris Christie


2:45 Ray Pinney


2:46 Ray Pinney


2:46 Governor Chris Christie

Not at all.

2:48 Governor Chris Christie

Not at all. In fact, I'd rather see anybody but them.

2:52 Ray Pinney

Okay. We're on agreement on that one.

2:54 Governor Chris Christie

Absolutely correct.

2:56 Ray Pinney

Okay. Okay governor, you're a product of the New Jersey's public school?

3:01 Governor Chris Christie

Yes, I am.

3:02 Ray Pinney

A point that I think you bring up, open up your town hall meeting. I know take some criticisms for your children but you are a product from a good school system in Livingston. How would you rate New Jersey's public schools now?

3:14 Governor Chris Christie

Listen, I think that the - I think the rating of New Jersey Schools now is variable. I think it very, very much depends on where you live. It's in fact, your a family who is living and sending your children to the public schools in Livingston or Cherry Hill or Millburn-Short Hills or Bridgewater, -- you know, Toms River. You're getting an outstanding public school education and I used those just as examples. There's other examples I could give. However, if your family that's living in Newark or Patterson or Jersey City or Trenton or Camden, you're not getting enough any education most likely from the public schools and the statistics bear this out and my view continues to be the same, which is -- you know destiny shouldn't be about zip code and we're spending a fortune in these places that I just mentioned are failing and this folks and their families should not have to put up with that, so I think the report card on New Jersey Public Schools is mixed. There are more good public schools than not good ones, but on the other hand, the ones that are not good are unacceptable because we have to do better for everybody.

4:36 Ray Pinney

Okay. Even before you became governor, you mainly was with your _4:40_ and NJA but not accepting their endorsement or not seeking their endorsement and many of your reforms such as pension benefit reforms and having opposed-body union and now you're taking on teacher tenure and how you evaluate teachers and other educational professionals, which I think I assume what we know they will oppose most of them. Why do you think we need to have teacher tenure reform?

5:04 Governor Chris Christie

Well, I don't think that there should be any profession in America, better one a profession as important as teaching our children that someone should be guarantee the job for life from 3 years and 1 day in the job without any meaningful opportunity for them to lose their jobs as they move forward for poorer performance, and that's what we have right now. In the last 10 years in New Jersey, only 17 tenure teachers had been let go for a poor performance. There's about a 150,000 or so teachers in the state of New Jersey public school teachers, so just imagine the math of that. What it tells you is that there are no meaningful ways to let teachers go once they've reached tenure, that's not acceptable for me. I think tenure is fine as long as tenure is earned and it must be earned by your performance every year in the classroom. And so what we've proposed this is a listing if there's a new way of evaluating teachers where if you're rated either below adequate or just okay, just fairly adequate for two years then you lose your tenure even earn it back if you want, but the fact is that we should not allow people any longer to keep their jobs for life if, in fact, they're not earning it. The reason for that is more for our children than it is for anything else. They deserve better.

6:45 Ray Pinney

Now, I have talked to teachers and their point is that from tenure perspective, it protects the good teachers from being unfairly let go. I am not sure if I agree with that, it might do the opposite to protect the poor teachers, but do you think it protects good teachers from being arbitrarily let go?

7:03 Governor Chris Christie

Our system will continue to allow good teachers not to be arbitrarily let go because good teachers would have tenure. It's just not taking away tenure. I wanna be really clear on that. Each tenure has to be earned. At school districts -- listen, they're fighting enough to find good teachers. They're not gonna get rid of good teachers. If they're working hard in producing results and they won't be able to because they'll be tenured. The people who shouldn't be tenured are the people who are not producing results, and so that's just a red herring that's put up by the unions because they wanna continue this system, which allows them to add every year to their roles, which allows them to get more dues, which allows them to have more money than their political slush fund to send around the state to try to continue the influenced folks in a way that is not for improving education but just improving the work conditions of the members.

7:58 Ray Pinney

Now, I just wanna be clear. With your proposal anyway, a teacher would lose tenure but they don't necessary lose their job they have an opportunity to win that tenure back.

8:09 Governor Chris Christie

Correct. Correct. What we're looking for is for people to be held accountable. Ultimately, that's what we're looking for is accountability and that's the most important thing is accountability and I think that most good teachers in the state are not the least been afraid of accountability. Not the least been afraid of accountability and they welcome the idea that they'll be evaluated and the evaluations that we're proposing. Also have to do with not only just have a students' test and what kind of grades do they get, but also a 50% of the component of our system would be pure evaluation. So, don't let the teachers, when you hear, they'll tell you that this is about testing. It's not about testing it's only partially. Our plan only says 35% of the teachers' overall evaluation would be based upon testing.

9:11 Ray Pinney

So, there is a force that's based on testing. What do you do with teachers who don't have like standardized test, if these teachers -- they are teacher and then on even some of the social study courses that people take?

9:24 Governor Chris Christie

Then you'll look at other ways to measure student progress, and achievement grades and other ways that they evaluated. But you don't say because there is no testing for Art teachers and Gym teachers that the testing shouldn't be relevant for the Math teacher or the English teacher. That's just silly. I mean when you think about it -- and I wanna be clear on tenure. If -- if the teacher has been rated either in our system, you would have some very clear ratings. Teachers would be rated highly effective or effective, partially effective or ineffective. So, if you rated either effective or highly effective for three consecutive years, you get tenure. If you're rated ineffective for one year or just partially effective for two consecutive years, then you revert to a non-tenured status and have the opportunity then at the school district's discretion to earn the tenure back.

10:26 Ray Pinney


10:27 Governor Chris Christie

These are pretty reasonable plan.

10:31 Ray Pinney

And I guess the sad thing is that I'm not sure if there's too many professions that do have tenure of this sort.

10:38 Governor Chris Christie


10:39 Ray Pinney

Earlier, I've heard you talked frequently at town hall meetings and you talked about the 200 schools that are beyond in 100,000 students in those school district that you wanna really help and your critics will come back and say that -- well, that means there's 1.2 million children succeeding in 2,300 schools succeeding, so why do we need to have reform then? Will the reform help those poor students or just one in those poor districts?

11:03 Governor Chris Christie

Of course, it'll help all students, -- I mean, that's what I'm saying because the school is not failing, it hasn't been judged to be failing, but it can't be improved. You know, this is so silly. You see, if you spent five seconds thinking about the teachers union arguments, you can shoot holes in them. I mean that argument which is well -- this other got 1 or 2 million kids are doing great because they're not included in the 200 failing schools? Well, are you telling me then that all those are operating a peak effectiveness, absolutely untrue -- they're not, and everybody can be improved. And I think that the whole goal of this is that even the kids were getting good education, maybe we get them to get a great education and those who are getting great education, maybe we can make it even better and the idea that somehow that's not possible or that because we're having success in some places, there is no reason to change the system is really absurd, completely absurd.

12:01 Ray Pinney

Before changing the teaching profession, they require some of summary reforms in school choice, charter schools, and vouchers. I know when you're searching for a commissioner of education you want its owner with a strong supporter of charter schools. So let's start with charter schools. How do you see the role in New Jersey's public school system?

12:21 Governor Chris Christie

Well, listen. First let's remember that charter schools are public schools, they are publicly funded, they're not private schools and there's a lot of confusion about that across the state, but I think charter schools are not a panacea and they're not a silver bullet solution to these problems. They're just one of many and I think they should be focused -- charter schools should be focused on those school districts where there's failure to provide folks with an opportunity to be able to make a different choice rather than their neighborhood public school which is failing them. So, my view on charter schools is that the focus of charter schools should be in those areas that are most challenged, where there's a lot of failing students and folks can then go there and get a different type of education. Now, if you look at the waiting list in our cities to be in these charter schools, the waiting lists are in the thousands. And I told you that there is a huge demand for this across our state especially in districts that are failing and so that's the role I see for charter schools. In addition, the second role for charter schools is that what they originally desire to do was in a non-tenured, non-union structure in the beginning to try innovation and different approaches to teaching that weren't being done because of contract restrictions in the regular public schools and to see which of those new approaches work and then to apply those lessons to the regular public schools. We got half of that right. We've come up with all the ways to innovate and help teach kids in these different situations, but we haven't taken the next step which is to apply them to all the public schools and that's what we need to do as well. So these are the two roles for charter schools.

14:10 Governor Chris Christie

At school choice, we now have been able to sign a pre-aggressive Interdistrict Public School Choice Program where kids can change from one public school to another if the school district has agreed to be cooperating districts. I think that's a good step in the right direction, aiming to provide more choice to folks. It's a good step in the right direction. Now, on the vouchers, we have a building that I've been supporting sponsored by Senator McCain and Senator Lesniak with the Opportunity Scholarship Act and that's where private companies would donate scholarship money to this fund and they will get tax credits in return for the money they donate, and that money would then be used to pay for the parochial or private school tuition of students who otherwise could not afford it in failing school districts and so, another way to get parent's choice. Now, you mentioned earlier at the top about the choice that my wife and I have made to send our children to parochial school. We've made that choice because we believe that having faith as part of their everyday school lessons is an important thing that helps to reinforce the values we're trying to teach our kids at home, but the reason we were able to make that choice is because we can afford to make that choice. Now, I pay nearly $38,000 of property taxes every year, 75% of that money goes to my public school system in Mendon and we have a great public school system there and I made no complaints about supporting as a citizen of free outstanding public education for every kid in Mendon. I think it's really important but we've decided not to utilize it. We've decided our own, out of our own pocket to pay for our children to go to parochial school. Now, what about parents who are in a failing school district, where the kids are falling behind year after year, but they don't have the resources that Mary Pat and I have to be able to make a choice of a parochial or private school.

16:08 Governor Chris Christie

What's our answer for those families -- that you're confined to failure, that we're not gonna do anything to help you or be patient and wait until we fix the public schools what they've been waiting in some of these districts like Newark and Patterson for over 20 years for these schools to be fixed and then not being fixed. To me, I can't allow children and their families to have to wait more time for them to get a good education. And so, again, none of these things where you're talking about vouchers, Interdistrict school choice, or charter schools are by themselves a single silver bullet solution to the problem, combined, they help to create a competitive atmosphere that will hopefully allow the public schools in these failing districts to have an additional motivation for being able to improve because if they don't, they run the real risk of losing students which they don't want to do.

17:07 Ray Pinney

You've mentioned when you've talked about these charter schools that you wanna focus some more on the district that are failing. There has been some concern that in communities whether this school district is not really failing, that there are charter schools, and that there's a drain on their resources and maybe the community should have a say on that. Do you have any opinion on that?

17:29 Governor Chris Christie

Yeah, I don't agree with that. I think this is a -- the decision have to be made at the state level, but I also think that, as I said before, that charter schools -- well, there are some exceptions to this, the charter school effort should be focused on making sure that it's in areas where school districts have been failing to provide more choice for those families. There can be exceptions to that rule, but in the main, that's my position on it.

17:57 Ray Pinney

Alright. So the state resources would be focused on the more improving charter schools than those districts that are failing?

18:05 Governor Chris Christie

That's what I'd like to see, yes.

18:06 Ray Pinney

Okay. More than other quick thing that you put out there, your _18:10_ and he talked about transformational school districts. Could you explain what your position is and what do you think on that one?

18:18 Governor Chris Christie

Sure. Some of this instances, we can't wait for new charter schools to be built and established. We can't wait for us to improve over the slow along all these things before these public schools. Some of them, we need to have transformation. We need to have transformation quickly. And so that transformation school build that we've talked about will be turning over some of these failed public schools to private operators for period of time to be able to turn the school around quickly and -- but it would have to have the agreement of the local school district to do it. They will have to voluntarily answer into that program. So we wanna continue to have these decisions made at the local level, but we want to give them another option to try to transform the school quickly by bringing in private assistance and private management to help.

19:11 Ray Pinney

Okay, I'm going to move in to a totally different subject but school funding. You obviously were not thrilled with the Supreme Court ruling which should increase the amount of your budget in school aid but you eventually complied with the ruling and to the budget that what that they just put in which _19:30_ the school funding formula and the envision looking to change at any point?

19:36 Governor Chris Christie

Well, also I think we do need to change the school funding formula. I think it shown itself to be a failure and we argued that with the Supreme Court. You know, I think it's -- it is shown itself to be a failed legal theory and the reason it shown itself to be a fair legal theory is because we've put billions and billions of dollars into this district thinking that money equals quality and a dozens. And so the whole premise of the school funding formula is, money equals quality and it's just simply not true. It's not that simple in equation. So, I think the school funding formula needs to be total we've looked at. I've asked the Commission of Education to re-look at the school funding formula to come up with some suggestions for me to consider about how we might fund our public schools differently. Now, that being said despite the -- in fact that I disagree with the Supreme Court ruling, we can _20:34_ with any even additional money to the funding of our public schools, so that this year, we're funding public schools from the state perspective and a higher level of aid then the last year of the course on administration. And so, this whole idea that somehow we don't want to fund public schools is completely consecrate to the record we've established here. Yes, in my first year we had a cut either over $20 million in funding from the public school because we are in an enormous physical crisis. But the next year, this budget that I've just signed and advocated for, put an additional 850 million into the budget for public schools. So, it paid back the entire cut from the year before of 120 million and then an additional 30 million on top of that. So we're committed to wanting to fund the public schools, the amount they need to be funded to be successful, but two things: One, I don't think the way we're funding them right now with the current formula is the best way to go and is putting forward or putting our best foot forward rather for success.

21:35 Governor Chris Christie

Secondly, you know, I don't believe that it's a simple equation as money equals quality and we need to get down to the other things that need to be done in the school systems like what we just talked about earlier in the interview to make sure that we give kids the best education we can.

21:55 Ray Pinney

There's a proposal that there's numerous proposal on how to fund education. Some of them has more on a poor child base school or simpler formula than we have now and sometimes there's the issue of school launches and that. Are there any components that you think you would like to change or you can just ask the commissioner serve kind of look at it and make a recommendation for you?

22:16 Governor Chris Christie

I don't want to jump the gun, I'd like to have the commissioner be able take a full look at it, he is the expert in this area and I want him to give me his complete recommendation. Like goes start saying, certain things I like or don't like. I may be precluding options for myself that I may want back later on. So, I think I'll just say those -- listen, the commissioner is looking at these different _22:32_ with some recommendations obviously before we propose the budget next February.

22:39 Ray Pinney

Moving forward on your education agenda, you're gonna need to work with the legislature. Now, I know you probably will be spending November and October working change from a Democratic control to the Republican control, but still remains in a Democratic control hand. You have worked but together which Speaker Oliver and also Senate President Sweeney, but they've come under some recent attack for working with you on the expansion and health benefit reform views. Still think you'd be able to work with them in the upcoming year at some of these reformed agendas?

23:09 Governor Chris Christie

Absolutely. Listen, we all get attacked at times by the special interest in the city. And I've been attacked by a lot of this special interest like the Teachers Union from the day I got here, from before I got here. And now, they're attacking Senator Sweeney and Speaker Oliver, they attack anyone who does not tow the line, the union line a 100%. And so, I don't think this will prevent me and Speaker Oliver from working together and Senator Sweeney from working together in the future. I think they're just as committed to improving the lives of children in New Jersey as I am. And I'm sure, I'm very confident that we'll be able to fight common ground on these issues.

23:49 Ray Pinney

Do you feel are you confident that on a lot of issues that -- first of all, I think you mentioned even on the Opportunity Scholarship Act that there is a democratic sponsor on it that they are democrats who will work with you on some of these issues?

24:04 Governor Chris Christie

Oh, yeah absolutely. There's a lot of democrats who feel like change has to come whether Senator Lesniak or Senator Ruiz who are both been outspoken advocates for real change in the 10-year system and in the opportunities that are provided to children in failing school district. So, I think we're gonna follow a lot of democratic support. Senator Sweeney has also said that he supports 10-year reform. So, we know a lot of people out there who already publicly saying they will announce about getting down to the details and that probably won't happen until after the election.

24:35 Ray Pinney

School board members in New Jersey are -- they're democrats, they're republicans, they're independent, they represent small rural districts as well as a large urban district all who are volunteers. What do you see is the role of the volunteer school board member and both school government but also in the education reform movement?

24:53 Governor Chris Christie

Well, you know, listen, I think the role of school board members in our state is extraordinarily important and I think they need to be willing to stand up and fight first and foremost for the answers of the children and their families in their town. And so, I think school board members in the main have a _25:12_ job. I think you get criticized no matter what you do but I think their role is very, very important as we move forward to be agents for change they need to be agents and advocates for the kids. That has to be their first job and not necessarily trying to carry favor with the people that they're seating across from negotiating table from.

25:35 Ray Pinney

Okay, thank you. I have one person that sent me a question and they wanna ask you and I said I know -- I think I know your answers gonna be but -- because you probably don't have an answer. He is already thinking about how he's going to budget for next year and he said, what's the economic forecast for next year's phased budget?

25:59 Governor Chris Christie

Well listen, right now the answer -- you're right. The answer is I don't know. I don't have a crystal ball but what I could say is that right now our revenue projections are being met by our incoming revenue to each of the states. So, that's a positive thing and so our budget which I think was a realistic one and a hard headed one is so far being certain to be right. The revenues or meeting what we said they will probably meet when we projected those and it's so far so good. So, I'm optimistic about next year's budget but you know these things change very quickly based upon the national economy and the effect of the national economy has on New Jersey's economy. So, we're hopeful that things will continue to move on a positive direction, but we -- you know -- we can never be sure.

26:46 Ray Pinney

Okay, I wanna to give you -- was there any topic that I didn't cover that you would like to address to be able -- just took a few minutes left.

26:52 Governor Chris Christie

Well, listen, I think it's really important for folks that they are listening to understand as you said to the top there are _26:56_ public schools in the state. I cared deeply about making sure that public education is as good as it can be, but I'm not going to go along with the myth any longer that New Jersey public education is as good as it needs to be. It isn't, it isn't as good as it needs to be for a lot of children and their families and we need to make the difficult decisions that need to be made in order to improve it and that's gonna be making some adults uncomfortable. That's just the way it goes, if I have to choose between making adult uncomfortable and giving a world class education to a child which gives pride and hope to their parents for that child's future, I'm gonna pick that over comfort for adults every day in the week. And that's what these choices really about and the folks on the union side will continue to fight us on these. Fight us because they like the comfortable status quo right now. It works out very well for them, but that's not who we need to be the most concerned about. We need to be the most concern about the kids, who are not being served well in many of these districts across the state and other children who are reserved well but could be served even better. That's what we're looking and hoping to do and by putting as much attention on this issue as we are, we're hoping that that's gonna lead to the type of honest, robust discussion that will force everybody to do some compromising and be able to give us some results for the kids that we should be concerned about.

28:21 Ray Pinney

Okay. Governor Christie, I really like to thank you for coming and speak in to the education community both board members, administrators, parents, about your views and we don't always agree in all the issues but I think keeping a dialogue open is important to moving education forward in the state.

28:40 Governor Chris Christie

Listen. I agree with you very much and I don't expect that everyone is gonna agree with me all the time. And that's okay. As long as we're having an honest open dialogue about it, we let the majority of the people in the state weigh in and decide these things and I think that the involvement of the school board association is incredibly constructive to try to foster the type of compromise that will favor children that we all want to reach.

29:07 Ray Pinney

Okay. I like to thank you for joining us who are coming to the last minute of our show.

29:12 Ray Pinney

And I like to also invite you on behalf of our officers and our membership that if you can join us at our workshop at Atlantic City this year in late October, I think invitation has already been sent to you and you can talk to some of the board members in person there.

29:12 Governor Chris Christie

Thank you.

29:29 Governor Chris Christie

Well thank you for re-extending an invitation. We'll certainly take a look at it with my schedule and folks and if I can make it there, you can be sure I'll be there.

29:36 Ray Pinney

Okay, great. And I also just wanna let our listeners know, his office said if I email any questions I will board them onto his office and they would address the issue and get back to our membership.

29:51 Governor Chris Christie

Absolutely. Absolutely.

29:53 Ray Pinney

Okay. Thank you. That brings us to the end. Once again, I like to thank you for joining us on Conversations on New Jersey Education. I hope we see you and work with you again in the future.

30:03 Governor Chris Christie

Excellent. Thank you for the time.

30:05 Ray Pinney

Okay. Thank you.

30:06 Governor Chris Christie


30:07 Ray Pinney

Bye now. That brings us to the end of our show. Our next schedule show would be next week and our guess would be Ray Wiss and we'll be talking about the governor.