Wednesday, February 02, 2005

New Jersey Governor's Race -- Education

Maintaining or improving education for our children is a pretty important issue at the local level. Since all politics is local, I would expect that the Republican candidates for governor would have something to say about it. Here’s what I found:

Paul DiGaetano says that he “has a record of bringing home record amounts of dollars for the classrooms in his district” and that “local schools need to get a fairer share of the tax dollars being sent to Trenton.” He then says he “will continue in his tradition as a budget hawk, insisting that spending on education focus on the classroom” while he will “remain a leading advocate for our best teachers, making sure they have the resources to do their job effectively.”

This policy statement doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for a gubernatorial candidate, but would sound great for an assemblyman.

Doug Forrester doesn’t have a specific education policy statement on his web site, but in his candidacy announcement he cites “an excellent education for every child” as part of the American Dream. I’ve asked for his thoughts on how to achieve this vision, and will publish the response when I receive it.

Steve Lonegan says “quality is not achieved simply by throwing vast sums of money into a system that is hardly a model of efficiency.” He follows up with this: “The key is to return teachers and teaching to the ranks of a profession – rather than the industrial-style union mentality that prevails today.” He offers a 10-point plan to improve our state’s educational system:

1. Vouchers for students in failing districts

2. Equal per-pupil aid for every district

3. Return control to local decision-makers

4. Prohibit school employees from sitting on school boards

5. Move board elections to November to increase voter participation

6. Cap budget increases

7. End construction project labor agreements

8. Count student population monthly instead of annually

9. Enforce voter rejection of capital projects

10. Expand outsourcing of support services

John Murphy doesn’t have anything to say about education on his site. I even did a Google Search and came up empty. I contacted him via the web form on the site, and will publish his response when I receive it.

Like Murphy, Bob Schroeder doesn’t spell out any specifics on education on his site. I only found two references to the term:

1. In his web contact form, a drop-box has a list of topics to select from, and includes education. (I used the form to ask what he thinks. When he responds, I will post it here.)

2. In an article about a fundraiser speech (May 5, 2004): “After applause subsided, Schroeder proposed changes in property tax, health care, auto insurance, education, transportation and tolls.”

It’d be nice to have the transcript of that speech – we might learn something from it.

Bret Schundler has not stated a position on education, but does claim a record of improving it as mayor of Jersey City. His site reprints a NY Times article from 1994 that states his top priority was “turning Jersey City's schools, which the state took over five years ago [i.e., in 1989], into a national model with a system of education vouchers.” His biography page claims “effective innovations in education” in his 2nd and 3rd terms as mayor.

Like the other candidates who have not yet published any specifics on education, I’ve asked via email and will post the response.

I expect the governor to communicate a vision for education, set priorities that lead to achieving his vision, and hold people accountable for delivering results. Spending more money that we don’t have will not solve any problems. It looks like Steve Lonegan has given a lot of thought to education reform. Doug Forrester has a good one-liner vision so far, and Bob Schroeder had a plan about 9 months ago but doesn't currently publish it on the web. We'll have to wait and see what, if anything, Bret Schundler and John Murphy have to say.

This topic is intimately linked with tax reform, since most of the cost of local government is sunk into the education of our children. My next installment will cover the candidates’ positions on taxes. That’s going to be a LONG post, so give me a few days.