Corey Booker Endorses Gov. Christie's School Reforms
Jason Method | My Central Jersey
NEPTUNE — Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker said Monday that he backs Gov. Chris Christie’s education reform measures — including school choice and teacher tenure changes — but he is critical of the new plan for higher education.
Booker, a Democratic rising star often mentioned as a possible gubernatorial contender next year to Christie, a Republican, made the comments during a meeting Monday with the Asbury Park Press editorial board.
Booker said he liked a new teacher tenure bill, sponsored by an Essex County state senator. That bill would end tenure as a lifetime job guarantee and force teachers to show they are proficient in their jobs or face possible dismissal or added risk for being laid off.
In addition, Booker said he favors more educational choices for children, including charter schools, public schools run by nonprofits and school vouchers. But he said he was not giving up on traditional public schools, either.
“I hold no allegiance to a school delivery model,” Booker said. “I really don’t care if you’re a charter school, a magnet school, a traditional district school. The question is: Are you providing quality education?”
But bad schools must close, and that includes charter schools, he added. Booker said two to four charter schools in Newark should close, though he declined to name which ones he had in mind.
“The biggest mistake in the charter schools movement is … defending bad charter schools,” Booker said. “They are not closing quick enough in the state of New Jersey. Many have had years to show if they can make progress, and they’re just not (doing that).”
Booker did criticize Christie for not spending enough money, and taking too long, to replace or repair aging urban public school buildings.
“I can take you to schools in Newark, New Jersey, that were built when — I’m not exaggerating — Abraham Lincoln was president,” Booker said. “They are buildings that are falling apart, with serious hazards. By not funding school construction to the degree it needs to be, we’re damning kids to fulfilling their under potential.”
In its plan for new school projects issued on Feb. 15, the Schools Development Authority said it would allocate funds for construction of or renovation to two Newark elementary schools.
As for Christie’s higher education plan, Booker said the two newly combined medical schools and universities in Camden and New Brunswick will represent sharp competition for hospitals in Newark, including the one run by the University of Medicine and Dentistry that Christie’s plan says should be split off on its own.
“We’re at a competitive disadvantage, and we’ll be competing now with those two other institutions for faculty, for research dollars for students,” he said.
Booker said he and other officials from Newark met with the governor’s staff last week to discuss the proposal. “They were very blunt and frank with us that they haven’t figured out a lot of the details yet,” he said.
A higher education study committee last month issued a broad report for the reorganization of higher education in New Jersey. It recommended that UMDNJ be remade as a new institution and that the hospital associated with it be run by a nonprofit.
Booker, elected in 2006, also spent ample time discussing the “Newark story,” his narrative on the turnaround of the city.
Booker said the population in Newark was growing, new hotels are being built downtown, and that $700 million of new projects are under construction. Another $1 billion more in new construction is in the planning pipeline.
Unemployment and crime rates are down, he said. Meanwhile, the city is trying new innovations, such as the $130 million teachers village housing project, which will include three schools and housing for the staff, in an attempt to create an educators’ community.
There is also a fatherhood program aimed at helping young men who have fathered children and a free legal clinic that tries to help newly released prison inmates clear up old legal issues and acclimate back into society.
Booker said police also have held meetings with local teens suspected of being involved in crime, and tried to offer alternative ways for jobs or education. Officials have pressed the point that 85 percent of those murdered in Newark have been arrested an average of 10 times in the past.
“You can empower people, save money to the state and, more importantly, rebuild communities,” Booker said. He added later: “Government is often the last to innovate. We knew we need to do that.”
Booker also thinks that, with more concerts and artistic events held in Newark, “We are now unequivocally, the cultural center of New Jersey.”
Booker, who has not disagreed with Christie much, expressed one such view on gay marriage, which Christie opposes.
“This is coming,” said Booker, who did not speak about Christie’s stance. “We will win. I’m not talking about gay people. I’m saying America will win, by creating equality.”
The 42-year-old mayor would not muse about his political future.
“The best way to make God laugh is to make plans for yourself,” he said.
But Booker said that he and Christie do get along very well, even if they disagree sometimes.
“The governor and I are so different. I don’t drink; he likes a good beer. I’m a vegetarian; he likes a steak, some raw meat sometimes as we’ve seen in his political ways,” Booker said with a laugh.
“The governor is a good guy. He has a penchant for being pugilistic, and sometimes pugnacious, but at the end of the day, he’s a good guy.”