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Gov. Christie Brings Controversial K-12 Record to GOP Presidential Race


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie officially announced his candidacy for the presidency on June 30. Christie, a Republican, has been governor of New Jersey since 2010 and was re-elected in 2013. He has a complex record on education policy that has attracted fierce supporters and detractors. 

Christie made his announcement at the Livingston, N.J. high school, which he attended and where he said he developed many of his traits that served him well later in public office. He mentioned the "hard choices" he pushed in the state to change tenure and the state's pension systems (more on that below). 

He also bemoaned American students' standing in the world, citing the nation's 27th-ranked math scores on the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), and its 24th-ranked science scores

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Let's start our review of Christie's record with a recent headline-grabber: In late May, Christie officially repudiated the Common Core State Standards and said the state would begin work on reviewing and improving the standards. That's a black-and-white reversal from where the governor has stood on the common core in recent years, when he's defended the standards from attacks by fellow Republicans. However, it's important to note that the state plans to keep the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which is aligned to the common core.

So if you're skeptical that the state plans to really move on from the common core, you might have company.

Earlier this month, Christie scored a victory of sorts when the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the state could skip pension payments that Christie has previously pledged to make. Four years ago, as part of a pension-overhaul law, the governor agreed to boost payments to the state pension system for public employees, in exchange for higher contributions to that system from employees. But for the past two years, due to tough economic circumstances, New Jersey didn't make those payments—labor unions sued, but the court ruled last month that the law did not constitute a legally enforceable contract. 

In the end, Christie got a reprieve for the state's budget, but the skipped payments might come back to haunt him on the campaign trail if his fiscal record comes in for scrutiny.

What else is on Christie's K-12 record? Here's a quick overview:

• His efforts to revamp the Newark district have become a national and controversial news story. In 2011, he picked Cami Anderson as superintendent for the state-run district, but her work to merge schools and open up the playing field for charters in the Newark district (which has been under state control since 1985) has made with vigorous resistance in the community. Recently, Anderson announced she would step down, and former state superintendent Chris Cerf would take her place. And Christie recently announced that the state would return Newark schools to local control

• Christie also altered the state's laws governing teacher tenure in 2012, making tenure harder to obtain. The law increased the number of years teachers would have to work before obtaining tenure from three to four, and also required them to obtain a relatively good rating for at least two of those four years. Christie boasted about this at the 2012 Republican National Convention, saying the changes also served as a check on the power of teachers' unions.

• Early in his tenure Christie earned a reputation as a K-12 budget-cutter, but in his 2013 re-election campaign he said the state was providing a record level of state funding for public schools. But he's come in for criticism once again for the fiscal 2016 budget he just signed, with state Democrats claiming that he's slashed support for public education

Photo Credit: Julio Cortez/Associated Press


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