Christie Pitches Education Reform to Urban Audience

January 20, 2012

IRVINGTON — Gov. Chris Christie told an inner-city audience Thursday he has high hopes his education reform agenda will boost overall student performance but conceded challenges remain in working with children from broken and dysfunctional homes.

“Kids who are not responding (and) don’t have the hunger to learn, as governor I can’t do anything about the parents. I can’t pretend I can go into every home and say, ‘Why don’t you care about your child learning?’ ” Christie said. “I don’t have any business going into somebody’s home and judging them. I don’t think they’d listen to me anyway.”

Christie went on to tout ideas on overhauling teacher tenure and increasing school choice during his town hall visit to the Christian Love Baptist Church.

Still, Christie said it will be difficult to turn around the failure of children where problems can be traced to parents who aren’t in the picture — because of working multiple jobs or being jailed or being deceased, he said.

“There are going to be a certain percentage of children (failing) because of their environment because their parents either don’t care or aren’t present,” the Republican governor said. “My problem is all those things are used as excuses for not getting at one of the things we know can be fixed, which is to make sure we have a quality teacher in front of the classroom.”

The event was held in the old church and was packed to capacity, with perhaps close to 500 people in the main worship area and a basement auxiliary room.

Christie shared some quick math, saying the audience was bigger than the number of people in the Democrat-dominated town who voted for him in the 2009 gubernatorial election.

Christie said “there are accusations sometimes that we pack the room with Christie supporters” at his town halls.

Not possible this time, said Christie, citing statistics showing he received 4.7 percent of the Irvington vote in 2009 election — 459 votes from a city of approximately 60,000.

Christie also rolled through questions about his proposed second-chance law that would steer substance abusers to treatment rather than jail and a bail reform initiative.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, D-Essex, who was in attendance, said Christie demonstrated a willingness to consider urban priorities.

“I heard a door open up a little bit,” Oliver said. “I heard him address social issues that are of importance to the people that you heard here today.”

Oliver added: “I think the governor has shied away from social issues during his two-year tenure, and he had his consciousness raised today.”

That was underscored when longtime Irvington resident Virginia Prescott told Christie, “I watched the school system deteriorate.”

That’s why a robust charter school program will help public schools improve, Christie said.

Christie said traditionally it’s been tough to impose “exacting standards” on public school districts under home rule.

Add in charters and let the competition begin, he said.