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School Reform In The Garden State

The New York Times tells us that in the New Jersey gubernatorial race:

[T]he sleeper issue is Mr. Christie’s push for education reform: merit pay for teachers, more charter schools, and above all, vouchers as a way to give poor and minority children better educational choices and create competition that would improve the public schools. Fighting for education reform also allows Mr. Christie, whose party affiliation is a liability in blue-leaning New Jersey, to align himself with Democrats.

Governor Corzine’s supporters, the Times said, “scoffed,” arguing that this doesn’t amount to much. They may have a point — with the unemployment and business failures spiking, a Corzine spending bonanza and resulting looming deficit, corruption and tax issues in the headlines day after day, school reform may not be all that high on the list of voters’ concerns.

But then again, consider what happened in Washington D.C. when the Congress and the president tried to kick poor kids out of the school voucher program. While the pictures of existing participants being booted from the program was particularly toxic, the issue did galvanize voters who ordinarily don’t come out in force together — inner city parents, conservative policy wonks, African American preachers, etc. The school issue has a way of emphasizing not simply one concern but a nexus of them: union loyalty vs. reform, business as usual vs. innovation, etc.

School reform may not be the only issue or even the top issue in the much-watch gubernatorial race but it may be worth observing for those assessing the public’s mood and voters’ willingness to put up with Big Labor’s influence in government. Stay tuned.