This is part of a series from education blogger Laura Waters of NJ Left Behind.
While New Jersey’s gubernatorial race is a drama-free zone (top Democrats continue to abandon their candidate, Barbara Buono), the state’s senatorial contest to replace the late Frank Lautenberg is as tightly-plotted as a Shakespearean history play. I won’t rehash the political machinations behind Gov. Christie’s egg-pelted-if-almost-forgotten decision schedule the primary for August 13th, two months from now, and the election for October 16th. Instead, let’s look at the education records of the four Democrats and two Republicans on the primary ballot for U.S. Senate.
Cory Booker: the current mayor of Newark possesses all the bone fides near and dear to an education reformer’s heart. He supports school options, particularly charter expansion, for kids stuck in crummy urban schools. His commitment to education persuaded Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to pledge $100 million to Newark’s public schools. Booker has spoken eloquently about the need to reform N.J.’s tenure system.
Booker has garnered some ill will from Democrats who pleaded with him to run against Christie for governor this year, but he knew a losing game when he saw it. All is forgiven: Essex County Executive Joe DiVencenzo has already endorsed him, as has South Jersey heavy-hitter George Norcross. Booker has about $2 million in the bank for campaigning.
Frank Pallone: a U.S. Congressman since 1988, he’s the only candidate to have more money in the bank than Booker: $3.7 million. His education record is a bit nebulous, but here’s what we know: he voted against the D.C. Voucher Program, which provided scholarships for poor kids in D.C. to attend private and parochial schools. His webpage states that “”Congressman Pallone believes local schools and teachers must be provided with adequate resources and compensation, and a strong emphasis must be placed on hiring and retaining highly trained and talented teaching professionals.” The National Education Association gave him a 100% rating on union agenda issues and the NJEA endorsed him in 2012.
Rush Holt: A U.S. Congressman since 1999, Holt has a much more extensive education advocacy history than Pallone. He’s a nuclear physicist (a favorite Central Jersey bumper sticker reads, “My Congressman IS a rocket scientist”), beat a computer in Jeopardy, and serves on the Committee on Education and the Work Force. He backs No Child Left Behind, although he’s pushed hard for rewrites that would add more funding for math and science education. He’s also urged the Feds to devote more money to special education programming. Holt is against vouchers and for charter school expansion, arguing at a town hall meeting that “the public has demanded, rightly, for choice in public schools and the charter school movement is an effort to provide that.” Holt has been endorsed by NJEA. He has about $800,000 in the bank to run his campaign.
Sheila Oliver: The N.J. Assembly Speaker surprised some politicos when she entered the senatorial race. She has a rocky relationship with state Democratic leadership. Her other gig is an $85K per year administration job in the Essex County government; her boss is Joe DiVencenzo, who recently endorsed Cory Booker. She earned the ire of NJEA when she backed the pension/benefits bill that forced public employees to increase contributions.
Oliver has spoken out against school vouchers and charter school expansion. She’s largely responsible for stymying the passage of the Opportunity Scholarship Act (the voucher bill) because she’s refused to bring it to the floor of the Assembly for a vote. The Assemblywoman told NJ Spotlight that she “does not believe the New Jersey’s public education system needs the wholesale changes that Christie has proposed, saying the problems lay mainly in urban schools under the pressures of poverty, crime and family instability.” She has very little money for campaigning.
Steve Lonegan: the former mayor of Bogota is the former head of a right-wing Koch Brothers-funded group called Americans for Prosperity. He famously compared Barack Obama to Fidel Castro. He’s an ardent opponent of N.J.’s school funding formula, which directs more money towards poor children, and has pushed for a constitutional amendment to overturn the state Supreme Court’s Abbott funding decisions. A quintessential local control guy, he wants all N.J. school districts to get the same amount of state funding, regardless of student needs and to require Abbott districts to offer school vouchers. He told an interviewer that “the highlight of his career will be the day that he signs a bill requiring every Abbott school districts to give a quality education to students with the same funding as every other school district in the state of New Jersey”. Koch Brothers or not, he’s got little money in the bank.
Alieta Eck: Who? Exactly. She’s a medical doctor for whom all American ills stem from ObamaCare. Says Eck, “we must plot our exits from the bloated national programs that cannot live up to their promises. We must return to our noble roots of self-reliance and strong moral character, and plan as though the federal government programs will fail.” She has no education platform and, it appears, no money.
Laura Waters is president of the Lawrence Township School Board in Mercer County. She also writes about New Jersey’s public education on her blog NJ Left Behind. Follow her on Twitter @NJLeftbehind.