We're no fans of the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a school-voucher program the Christie administration is pushing. We think it takes the wrong approach toward helping children in underperforming schools.
And we're certainly not apologists for Gov. Chris Christie, whose bluster and bullying often cross the line.
But the brouhaha over Christie's comments at a town hall meeting in Paterson last week is ludicrous.
The Opportunity Scholarship Act would give dollar-for-dollar tax credits to corporations that pay for scholarships so that students from low-income families can transfer out of underperforming districts and into private or public schools in another district. Under the act, the schools that lose students would lose a proportionate amount of per-pupil state aid - and we think this would just make it even harder for underperforming schools to do a better job.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, D-Essex, also opposes the bill and has managed to stall it in the Legislature for two years.
So, at his March 12 town hall meeting, after audience members pressed Christie on what he was doing to improve Paterson's schools, the governor, referring to Oliver, said:
"We have an African-American female speaker of the Assembly who represents communities like East Orange and Orange where there are failing schools all over, and she refuses to let people vote on this bill."
Christie added: "Why is it taking a Republican governor from the suburbs to stand up and fight the teachers union and the urban political machine ... ?"
Oliver immediately said she was "appalled" by Christie's comments and accused him of "racial polarization." The pastor of the church where the town hall was held, and others, are demanding an apology. Sen. Ron Rice, D-Essex, compared Christie to a Southern segregationist from the 1960s.
Please. How about everyone take a deep breath?
Christie's spokesman immediately said the governor's comments were misinterpreted - actually they seem to have been deliberately misinterpreted.
Every and any mention of race and racial differences is not automatically offensive. Does anyone doubt that the great majority of low-income students attending underperforming schools in impoverished districts in New Jersey are African-American?
Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, the executive director of the New Jersey Black Ministers Council, doesn't doubt it. He supports the Opportunity Scholarship Act and in 2010 (in a statement helpfully supplied by the Christie administration last week), said:
"The fate of this bill is in the hands of the Democratic majority in the New Jersey Legislature, especially Speaker Sheila Oliver. African-Americans are the most loyal base of the Democratic Party and our children are the ones primarily trapped in failing schools."
Christie has no reason to apologize ... this time.