Corzine focuses on improving public education

The campaign of New Jersey gubernatorial hopeful Jon Corzine made a stop at the College last Thursday morning, with the senator stumping out of Forcina Hall. Corzine’s remarks, which weighed in at a little under an hour, focused on primary public education in the state.

“Leaving no child behind is not good enough,” Corzine said to the packed audience of students and faculty alike. “What we need to do is make sure every child can get ahead.”

While Corzine recognized the achievements of New Jersey’s public schools – specifically citing that the state’s fourth-graders have the third best literacy marks in the country – he added: “We have great strengths, but that does not mean we do not have challenges.”

Corzine’s proposals include working to make full-day kindergarten available statewide by 2009, launching a “High Skills Partnership” initiative to focus on preparing students for jobs in growth sectors of the economy, and making four years of math and science mandatory at New Jersey high schools.

According to the summary proposal released by the Corzine campaign, the first-year cost of his programs is estimated at $22.5 million.

Presently, full-day kindergarten programs are offered in 350 school districts in the state, up from 264 in 2001.

If he wins come Election Day, Corzine hopes to offer full-day kindergarten in all districts. However, the program would not be mandatory. According to The Times of Trenton, a Corzine advisor said the plan – which would cost $8.5 million in its first year – would cost $34 million over four years.

“We have a requirement in our most poor, most needy districts, to provide early childhood education,” Corzine said. Indeed, full-day kindergarten is mandatory in 31 districts across the state, including Trenton.

Likewise, Corzine proposed doubling the funding of the state’s pre-K programs, claiming that for every dollar the state spends on early childhood education, it saves seven dollars down the road in reduced welfare, criminal justice and special education costs. His proposal would provide preschooling for an additional 14,400 children annually at a first-year cost of $6 million.

“It’s unbelievable for us to be the wealthiest state in the nation and not offer (preschool),” Corzine said. “It leaves parents, particularly women, scrambling to find daycare.”

The senator’s “High Skills Partnership” program – to which the campaign has not attributed a cost – would work to integrate the career-specific curriculum of the state’s vocational and technical schools into its secondary schools.

It would create “schools within schools” to teach career skills.

“We must work to ensure that children are prepared for the workplace,” Corzine said, noting that the state’s technical schools produce a quarter of the number of scientists and engineers that all of China produces.

Likewise, Corzine – himself a former CEO of Goldman Sachs, a New York-based investment firm – pressed for schools to teach financial literacy. “Students must understand how a 401k investment account works, and what factors determine a credit score,” Corzine’s summary proposal reads.

“No schools in New Jersey, or really in the country, teach financial literacy,” he said. “I believe it ought to fit right in there with reading, writing and arithmetic.”

This would come alongside public school curriculums that push arithmetic, making four years of math – including a requirement to have completed algebra by the ninth grade – mandatory.

“This world is very, very mathematically oriented,” Corzine said.

The senator also addressed issues of corruption in school construction, taking the state’s Schools Construction Corporation (SCC) to task for depleting its $8.6 billion budget amid allegations of waste and mismanagement.

“You should expect, and I should be held accountable. Every dollar should be spent well,” Corzine said, adding that fixing the school construction issue is one of the most important factors for statewide property tax relief.

In February, the Corzine campaign proposed the creation of an independent State Comptroller position to investigate corruption in the state.

“The disgraceful SCC cost overruns and mismanagement make the position even more important,” the campaign’s summary proposal reads, noting that, if elected, Corzine would hire independent auditors to investigate the failings of the SCC. “I said right from the start, if there’s something wrong, we’ve got to prosecute individuals,” he said.

Although the senator was awarded an honorary doctorate at last May’s commencement ceremonies, and despite his warm welcome on Thursday by College President R. Barbara Gitenstein, not all of the College stands behind Corzine.

“The senator offered very noble education programs to this state, yet he has no means of paying for them,” Tony DeCarlo, vice-chair of the TCNJ College Republicans and senior history and secondary education major, said in an e-mail statement.

“The bulk of these programs would be paid through public bonding. Essentially, Sen. Corzine wants to borrow the money now and let his successors worry about paying the bill later.”