How Would Chris Christie Stack Up vs. Obama on Education?

By Sean Cavanagh — September 27, 2011 2 min read
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Speculation persists about New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie jumping into the 2012 presidential race, despite his repeated and often colorful disavowals of such ambitions.

“What do I have to do outside of threatening to commit suicide to convince people I’m not running?” he said earlier this year.

Christie was scheduled to give a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Tuesday night, and even if he issues more denials of a imminent White House campaign, it seems likely that the chatter will continue.

If the governor did enter the race and capture the GOP nomination, his positions on education would offer an interesting series of contrasts, and similarities, with Obama’s—in stark contrast to the current Republican field, particularly Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has repeatedly trashed the president’s school policies as misguided and Washington-centric.

While Christie has been critical of the Obama administration’s overall federal spending priorities, he’s praised the president’s work on education, such as his efforts to press for improvements in the teaching profession. When it comes to education issues, “I consider myself an ally of his,” the governor said of the president earlier this year, according to Reuters.

Hard to imagine Rick Perry saying that.

New Jersey, along with he vast majority of other states, participated in what is probably the Obama administration’s most visible education initiative, the $4 billion Race to the Top competition. It later turned out that the state’s application was marred by an error, which resulted in New Jersey getting docked crucial points and may have cost the state a $400 million grant. Christie drew heavy criticism in some quarters for the mishap, and for the resultant feud with his then-education commissioner over how the issue was handled.

Christie has pressed for evaluating teachers on the basis of performance, including improved student achievement, although New Jersey’s efforts in that area have not yet been as far-reaching as the policies in other states. The governor has feuded often with the state’s largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, over changes he wants to make to schools, and to the expectations the state sets for educators.

Much of Christie’s appeal to conservatives comes from his record in cutting government spending. Earlier this year, he reached a deal with state Democratic leaders to require teachers and other public employees to contribute more toward their pensions, which would in turn reduce the state’s obligations. That move once again antagonized the teachers’ union, which is suing to block the measure, claiming it violates existing contracts.

At the same time, Christie has said he has little interest in pushing for the kind of sweeping and controversial changes to collective bargaining that have been pursued by Republican Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio.

Whether any of this matters in 2012 remains to be seen. While many GOP backers, pining for a candidate capable of beating Obama in the general election, seem eager for Christie to run, it’s questionable whether the things they believe could make him viable in a general election—namely, his relatively moderate views—would help him in the Republican primaries, where his opponents could have a lot to say about the governor and his “ally” in improving education.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.