Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, said Thursday that Republican politicians are leading the way for better educational opportunities for poor and minority children through voucher programs for private schools, while Democrats passively stand by or obstruct their efforts. The partisan framing of his education agenda is a bit of a departure from Christie's earlier praise of President Barack Obama's education reforms, and may hint at how the issue will play out in the presidential campaign. Mitt Romney said Wednesday that President Obama's lack of support for the voucher program in Washington, D.C., is "inexcusable."
Christie made the remarks Thursday at the American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice's annual policy summit in Jersey City. He said it was "ironic" that he, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana—all Republicans—were the only national political leaders to address the conference. (Daniels did not speak at this event, but attended earlier AFC events.) The groups advocate for the formation of more charter schools and for state-funded vouchers for low-income children in failing schools who want to attend private schools.
Christie has pushed for a voucher bill since taking office in 2009 in New Jersey, where he faces strong opposition from the teachers union, which says the state should instead focus on improving struggling public schools. Daniels and Jindal have both passed sweeping voucher programs in their states; Jindal signed his into law just last month.
"I"ll try as hard as I can not to be partisan, but how ironic is it that when Betsy [DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children] was talking about the people I'm competing with to get up on the stage of school choice, that we're competing with a Republican governor of Louisiana and a Republican governor of Indiana, all of whom are kind of the nephews of the Republican governor in Florida, who got all of this moving in the first place," he said, referring to Jeb Bush. "You know, I don't want to make this partisan, but let's face it—and I say this in urban communities all the time—you continue to vote for these folks, put them in office, and they continue to not address the needs of your families and your children."
Each of the three Republican governors, along with other politicians, has been mentioned as a potential running mate for Mitt Romney on the Republican presidential ticket. If one of them is chosen, the topic of K-12 education might make it into the election spotlight in a cycle that has up to now been dominated by the economy.
One of the most notable education mentions of the primary season was then-candidate Rick Santorum calling Obama a "snob" for saying every child should go to college or get some post-high school training. Christie criticized those remarks at the time, and said in Thursday's speech that "education is the path to redemption" and that he wants every parent to feel the pride of his or her child making it to college.
Up to now, Obama's education agenda has enjoyed bipartisan support.