To back him, Rice needs Schundler’s assurance he won’t push vouchers

Bret Schundler for commissioner of the state Department of Education? Maybe.

But if Schundler comes shackled to school vouchers, there’s no way, said state Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-Newark), chairman of the legislative black caucus and an enemy of private school vouchers who nonetheless has an overall positive opinion of the former Jersey City mayor and a favorable early read on Gov.-elect Chris Christie.

“I will always be an opponent and on point against vouchers,” said Rice. “I will challenge him up and down the state on that. Vouchers are not a choice, despite the best effort by the Milwaukee people, the Cory Bookers and the Schundlers, but we are going to work with the governor on initiatives for charter schools and we will work closely with teachers to do things in house we’re not doing now.”

Rice and other members of the black caucus met last Friday with Christie, who today selected school vouchers proponent Schundler as his commissioner of education.

Rice described the meeting as productive and came away with an impression of Christie as caring, smart and open-minded.

“But if I’m going to vote for Schundler, we’re going to have some conversations on that,” said the veteran senator. “Schundler will have to meet with the legislative black caucus and convince me of his vision for the whole system and assure me he will not be working to sell a special interest product.”

In short, said Rice, “I need a commitment from him that he’s not coming in to push vouchers. I need that assurance. If we don’t get it, there won’t be a vote passed.

“I would never be convinced by Milton Friedman and the far right wing of the Republican Party. I would agree on choices and opportunities, but we’re not going to privatize public education with a failed model from the 1950s these people have spent millions and now probably billion pushing since that time. It will never happen in New Jersey with my vote.”

Rice has a relationship with Schundler going back to the latter’s tenure as Jersey City mayor in the 1990’s.

“I worked with Schundler and the only real disagreement I had with him was on vouchers, when he was running around and paying for people to go to Milwaukee,” recalled the senator. “I refused to go. That model he was interested in back then has since been proved not to work.

“I’d like to think Chris Christie is smart enough to know vouchers are not the way to go,” Rice added. “We can’t do the religious school thing with taxpayer dollars. Public schools are schools we put together to insure everyone has a public education. We’ll be looking at choice when the joint committee has hearings on choices for our schools, but it’s not vouchers.”

To back him, Rice needs Schundler’s assurance he won’t push vouchers