Christie 'You're Going to be Astonished' at Number of Charter Schools Opening in State This Year
Governor says plan to be unveiled soon, pledges support for autism services.
Gov. Chris Christie upped the ante in his support of charter schools Thursday, saying that the public will be "astonished" by the number set to open in 2011.
"In the next week or two, we're going to announce the number of new charter schools that are going to be opened in New Jersey this year and you are going to be astonished," the governor told a town hall meeting at the Paramus Elks Lodge.
Christie used his first town hall of the new year to push his legislative agenda, calling on Democrats to advance a series of bills he calls the "toolkit."
The governor touted the need for pension, healthcare and education reform. Christie said reform, along with cuts in every department in the state government, were needed to address an anticipated $11 billion state budget deficit this year.
He also said he would close failing schools—the number of which he put at about 200—and promised to devote resources to autism services.
More than 500 people packed into the hall to hear Christie speak and answer questions.
Christie touched on a broad range of topics in his introductory remarks and in his answers:
- The governor announced the state would spend $16 billion in state and federal funds on transportation improvements over the next five years, including $600 million a year on public transportation.
- He said services for children and adults with autism was one of the few budget items that wouldn't take a cut in the 2012 state budget. In answering a question from the mother of a 20-year-old with autism, Christie said he would explore public/private partnerships to build more group homes for autistic adults.
- Christie said many more charter schools than the six that opened last year would open in the state under his watch. He cited statistics that showed charter schools beating out public counterparts in test scores across the board.
- The governor told the audience he has assembled a task force of educators to determine how to fairly evaluate and reward teacher performance. Christie said he wanted to eliminate tenure and pushed for merit pay and five-year contracts for teachers. The task force will release its findings in March.
- Christie said he would keep pushing legislators to pass his property tax tool kit, a batch of bills related to municipal finances. The State Legislature has passed five of the 22 bills, including a 2% cap on property taxes that went into effect this year.
John Driscoll, Chairman of the Bergen County Freeholders, was part of the mostly supportive audience that came to see Christie. Driscoll, a Paramus Republican, was particularly pleased with the governor's comments on funding for autism services.
"I was so happy that he's not touching it this year," said Driscoll, who has children who have been diagnosed with autism.
Before leaving, Christie said he would be back in Bergen County again, but to send any questions or concerns to his office in the meantime. Christie pledged to keep the lines of communication open between the governor's office and the public.
"There will be nothing left unsaid between us," he said.