Republican Gov. Chris Christie, dealing with a political payback scandal that threatens to damage his second term, intends to unveil a plan to increase the amount of time children spend in public school in his State of the State message on Tuesday.
The governor, widely seen as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, will propose lengthening the school day and the school year, according to excerpts of the speech, which were obtained by The Associated Press.
Christie says children who spend more time in school are better prepared academically. He’s expected to leave details of the proposal, which are being worked out with Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, for another day.
The plan could antagonize an old adversary, the powerful public teachers’ union, with which Christie has clashed over pension and tenure changes. The New Jersey Education Association spent millions of dollars in anti-Christie advertising during last year’s gubernatorial campaign, which he won easily.
Christie hopes to shift focus from investigations by the Democrat-led Legislature and U.S. attorney’s office into allegations his loyalists orchestrated crippling traffic jams in Fort Lee, the town at the mouth of the George Washington Bridge, to punish its Democratic mayor for not endorsing his re-election bid. The bridge, which connects New Jersey and New York City, is one of the busiest in the nation. Four people close to Christie have lost their jobs in the scandal, including a top aide in his administration and his two-time campaign manager.
Subpoenaed emails released last week show additional members of Christie’s inner circle were told about the scheme in the weeks after it unfolded in September, but there is no evidence linking him to its planning or execution.
Christie has apologized for the traffic jams, which delayed emergency vehicles, school buses and countless commuters for four days, and said they “blindsided” him. He has called his staff’s behavior “stupid.”
Christie sought to retool K-12 schooling with mixed success during his first term. He successfully overhauled century-old teacher tenure rules, essentially eliminating lifetime tenure.
But the Democrat-led Legislature has not gone along with his voucher plan, which would allow children in failing schools to attend classes elsewhere, including at private or parochial schools. Opponents say government should be fixing public schools for all students rather than providing an alternative to a lucky few.
Christie also is expected to revive his push for property tax relief. A 10 percent tax cut he proposed midway through his first term has gone nowhere.
Christie, who defeated Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono to win re-election, is set to be inaugurated for his second term on Jan. 21.