During his State of the State speech, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie proposed extending the school day and year as a way to improve the state’s education system.
Addressing lawmakers on the heels of a political scandal that has put the Republican governor in a difficult spot, Christie steered the focus away from that matter and devoted a hefty portion of his Jan. 14 address to his education agenda—an agenda that is likely to get heightened attention in light of his anticipated run for president.
“The quality of education and the quality of life in our communities are inextricably intertwined,” Christie told lawmakers.
Quantity was the main new remedy Christie offered in his speech, calling the current school calendar “antiquated.”
“It’s time to lengthen both the school day and the school year in New Jersey,” he said. “This is a key step to improve student outcomes and boost our competitiveness.”
Christie also discussed at length efforts to improve educational quality in the cities of Camden and Newark, and highlighted the importance of providing families with school choice.
During much of his tenure as the Garden State’s governor, Christie pushed for cuts to K-12 spending, but sought an increase during the most recent legislative session. Along the way, he’s long tussled with the statewide teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association.
The union’s president, Wendel Steinhauer, said in a statement that any plans to extend the school day and year “must include educators and parents as well, to ensure that all concerns are taken into account, and it should be based on research and evidence.”
In fact, Steinhauer seemed to hint at skepticism of the governor’s proposal, saying that students “may not need a longer school day but rather better use instructional time already available.” He also said that an expanded year “would put significant pressure on districts to upgrade facilities.”
The governor did not mention whether he would seek additional state aid to help districts extend learning time.
Christie’s State of the State speech comes as state officials are investigating whether he played a role in a bridge closing that critics have suggested said was political punishment for a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse him for re-election. The governor has said he was unaware of the actions, but said he was dismayed when he learned of them.
“Mistakes were clearly made,” he said in his State of the State address, pledging to “cooperate with all appropriate inquiries.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.