WOODBRIDGE – Speaking to a crowd of roughly 300 in Middlesex County, Gov. Chris Christie was on his best behavior Tuesday with rows of school kids behind him.
The kids were engaged, but punchlines like the Wildwood firefighter’s convention liquid lunch joke didn’t resonate. Same thing with the “bring me the idiots” joke about the 4 percent of state employees who didn’t select the best health insurance plan.
Christie uses kid’s math in the town halls, so when he told the crowd that the average state worker pays $936 for a $13,400 plan – “You pay the rest” – even the children were on the same page. “Let them pay 30 percent of the premium.”
“I’m not Barack Obama,” Christie said in his pension spiel. “I can’t print money.”
On this, the children seemed split: some cheering, some sneering.
He turned to the children soon after, acknowledging the matching T-shirts they were all wearing.
“Support the Opportunity Scholarship Act,” he read. “And you bet I do.”
For kids in failing schools, he said, “Let them get a privately funded voucher to go to a school of their choice…When you’re going to great public schools you don’t need that option.”
To fix the other schools, he said get good teachers.
“We’ve now laid out a very specific plan on how to evaluate teachers,” he said, which is part professional evaluation and part standardized student testing.
The teachers’ union is saying he’s trying to tie the entirety of teacher evaluations to state testing – an unfair premise.
“It’s less than 50 percent,” he said, changing his approach slightly from more than 50 percent following the report of his teacher evaluation task force.
Again the union complains, “It’s too complex.”
But Christie asks the somewhat subdued crowd in Woodridge: “Is it hard to know which teachers are (doing a good job)?”
“No,” the crowd answered.
“You know it within two weeks,” he said, again turning to the unions. “(D)on’t tell me that we can’t figure it out, ‘cause we do every year.”
When the kids have a bad teacher, he said, they fall behind – “They’re behind forever.”
“No offense, kids,” he said, “but kids are cruelly honest…The kids know who’s doing well in the class and who doesn’t (do so well).”
And they let that kid know about it, Christie said, which makes the discouraged student stop raising their hand, eroding their self-esteem.
“That is when you have children resorting to violence…you have children resorting to drugs,” the governor said.