Getting Ahead: Jon Corzine’s Plan for Public Education in the 21st Century


Remarks as prepared for delivery
The College of New Jersey (Ewing, NJ)
September 8, 2005

Thank you, Daria, for that kind introduction. I should take you to introduce me at my next event.

And thank you President Gitenstein and the students and faculty of the College of New Jersey for welcoming me to campus. New Jersey is proud of your leadership and your growing national recognition as an institution of higher learning.

Let me also acknowledge and compliment, Joyce Powell, the president of the New Jersey Education Association, and Ralph Edelbach, the president of the AFT local here at the College. Great schools only exist because of great teachers, and New Jersey has many.

Let me begin in joining with all New Jerseyans in expressing our sympathy and solidarity with the families and students of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. So many lives have been lost; so many homes, businesses, and schools destroyed – so much of the ongoing life of that region threatened.

We as individuals and as citizens of the government of one nation must do everything we can to help those who lost so much. By opening your campus to students displaced by the hurricane, the College of New Jersey is doing its part. As we learned through the tragic experience of 9-11, our nation and our government institutions can and must respond to crisis and tragedy with discipline, compassion, and effectiveness. We will.

Just as government must act in tragedy and crisis – we must demand that government work to build the lives of our children by providing a quality educational experience.

Today, I want to focus on how we can make our state government work for the next generation of New Jerseyans – so they can learn more in better schools, earn more in the economy of the future, and have the perspective to embrace the complexities of the evermore interconnected and complex world.

As the school year begins for 1.4 million students at New Jersey’s 2,413 public schools, I can’t think of a better place than here at a great public college – an institution born as a teacher’s college – to announce my commitment to ensuring that all New Jersey children get the high quality public education that they deserve.

If we want every child to succeed, our schools must be devoted to giving all children the skills to excel at leading institutions like the College of New Jersey.

Let me say – I know I have been fortunate in life. I benefited from the support of my family, and the encouragement of my community. Terrific public schools opened the doors to greater opportunities than I could have ever imagined.

Because of access to a quality education, I have lived the American Dream. Now like all New Jerseyans, I want everyone to have the same opportunity to make the most of their talents – fulfill their dreams. That’s why I entered public life, and that’s why I am running to be New Jersey’s next governor.

With the right learning experiences, I believe every child can achieve that success.

It’s a belief instilled by my favorite teacher – my mom – who taught for more than thirty years – and confirmed by seeing my own children learn and by talking with teachers and parents across New Jersey.

Leaving no child behind is not enough. We need to make sure every child can get ahead. New Jersey’s students are smart, ambitious, and hopeful.

New Jersey is blessed with gifted teachers, and we claim some of the best public schools anywhere in the country.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, fourth graders in New Jersey read better than their peers in all but three states. Many of the highest performers on the SAT are from New Jersey. And our high school graduation rate is the highest in the country.

We have great strengths, but we also have great challenges.

This is particularly true when we look at where and how our children will be competing in the Friedman-esque “flat world” of the 21st Century.

Increasingly, New Jersey’s main competition for jobs is not Illinois and California, but India, Korea, and China. The latest report from the Program for International Student Assessment should be a call to arms for everyone: out of the 29 countries surveyed, 15-year-olds from the United States ranked 24th in math literacy and problem-solving.

Just as the race to the moon galvanized an earlier generation – the “education race” must mobilize us to meet the demands of the 21st Century.

Unless public education achieves its potential, our children will never achieve theirs.

If I am elected governor, I will lead an effort to instill in our schools and our children a passion for learning and reasoned thought that provides the values to achieve their best in this new era.

To that end, I will make certain that full-day kindergarten is available to every child in New Jersey. I will expand access to high quality preschool and double funding for after-school programs.

I will enhance the rigor of our students’ preparation in mathematics, technology, and financial literacy.

I will dramatically improve career training.

And I will align the curriculum for every school – from preschool to high school – with the preparation needed for success in college and life.

Throughout this campaign, I have talked about the need for our state to adopt a new strategy of “invest, grow, and prosper” – to safeguard hard-earned dollars while investing in a better, more prosperous economic future for New Jersey families.

Building on this effort, I unveiled a plan to reduce the property tax burden on middle class families and seniors.

But property tax relief must not come at the expense of quality public education.

No state investment does more to promote long-term economic growth and prosperity than our public schools. It boosts home values, increases community earning power, and grows state revenues through time.

According to National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers, for every dollar spent on early childhood education, we save seven dollars down the road in reduced welfare, criminal justice, and special education costs.

The flipside is just as true: when we under-invest in public education, we hold back our children and our economy at the same time.

Just think – it costs nearly 30 thousand dollars a year to incarcerate a criminal, but only fifteen thousand dollars to educate a child.

And furthermore, it costs only fifteen hundred dollars to keep a child off the streets and learning in an excellent after-school program.

As the demands of the global economy change, our schools must change too.

A high school diploma and a willingness to work hard no longer guarantee a good-paying job. It’s a reality I acknowledged in July when I unveiled my proposal to make it easier for New Jersey families to afford a high quality college education.

Of the thirty fastest-growing job sectors, seventy percent require an education beyond high school. Yet high school graduates often lack basic skills for success at the next level.

One in three Rutgers students takes remedial English or math – often adding a fifth or sixth year of tuition for families already struggling to afford four. More than two out of every three students at our community colleges find themselves in the same position – paying for learning they were supposed to have mastered in high school.

One of the most urgent challenges facing the next governor will be to close a “skills deficit” that shortchanges the dreams of too many New Jersey children.

The seeds for future success – independence, a love of learning, and a cooperative spirit – are planted in the child’s early years. Today’s preschoolers are tomorrow’s electricians, CEOs, teachers, and Governors.

Federal education studies stress the value of full-day kindergarten for improving reading and math skills.

While the state provides full-day kindergarten to all children in Abbott districts, more than half of New Jersey children in non-Abbott districts go without it.

It leaves many New Jersey children without the reinforcement they need to succeed in the early grades. It leaves teachers with less time to tailor their approach to the developmental needs of individual students. And it leaves parents – particularly women – scrambling to find childcare options.

If I am elected, I will enhance funding for full-day kindergarten, rewarding districts that offer it now and encouraging other districts to convert.

My goal is that full-day kindergarten will be available to every child in the state by 2009 – suburban and urban school districts alike – and that no child will be forced to spend first grade playing catch-up.

Whether a child gets enrichment even earlier – in preschool – also should not depend on her zip code. I plan to increase New Jersey’s commitment to early childhood education for all communities, and offer an additional 14 thousand children access to high quality preschool.

Research underscores what parents and teachers know: keeping kids engaged after the normal school hours has tremendous educational value, while allowing parents to balance work and family life.

After-school programs help kids with homework, and keep them off the streets, physically active, and out of trouble.

It’s no surprise that juvenile crime spikes between school dismissal and six pm. It’s also no surprise that a child without a supervised environment after the dismissal bell falls behind academically.

If I am elected, I will double funding for state-sponsored after-school programs so 10,000 New Jersey children will have a safe place to learn and play.

When our preschoolers and kindergartners grow into middle and high school students, we must maintain high expectations. We should not tolerate social promotion that lets students graduate ill-prepared for college or today’s job market.

I believe every child should complete a college-ready curriculum that includes a rigorous sequence of science, math, and English.

New Jersey has made admirable progress in improving its science courses for all students. Now, we must improve the rigor of our math curriculum.

All students must complete algebra by the end of the ninth grade, and by graduation they must have completed four years of high school math.

High-achievers in every school – whether they live in the city or the suburbs – will also be empowered to take on greater academic challenges, including Advanced Placement classes in all fields of study.

We need to prepare students for a high-tech.

A pre-engineering elective should be available in high schools across the state, with a special focus on encouraging female student participation. Equal pay for equal work depends on getting young women ready for the good paying jobs of the future. Our competitiveness as a country depends on the same thing. With China graduating four times as many engineers as the U.S., we cannot afford a world where women account for only 10% of America’s engineers.

The future of our state and the earning potential of our families depend on correcting this imbalance.

We also must ensure that all children are prepared for the workplace. If I am elected, I will make career preparation – for both those who are college-bound and for those who are not – a central focus of all New Jersey middle and high schools.

Vocational and Technical Schools – which long have emphasized preparing students for the workforce – provide some of the best public education in our state. They account for seven of the twelve high schools with the highest average SAT scores.

Vocational schools today are not just a road to a job. They can be the pathway to a career and a profession.

In fact, vocational and technical schools are so popular that – each year – thousands of students who apply are turned away. If am elected, I will work with education, business, and labor leaders to create “High Skills Partnerships” – so more students can benefit from a mix of academic courses and real world application. These High Skills Partnerships will link high schools, colleges, and careers.

We also will forge partnerships among vocational schools and businesses to create smaller, career-focused learning communities within traditional secondary schools. This will raise graduation rates and offer more students the education and experience they need to succeed in the jobs of the new economy.

In a global economy, our students need to be prepared with world languages and culture. Eighteen New Jersey schools offer Chinese – but that’s not enough. We need to do better at teaching the high demand languages that are increasingly important in the new world like Chinese and Arabic.

By 2009, our objective must be to triple the number of schools offering those critical languages.

In recognition of our own diversity here in New Jersey, we know the importance of Spanish knowledge for our economic future, our cultural strength, and our unity as a people.We need to redouble our commitment to teaching foreign language to children of all ages starting in elementary school.

I next want to address one of my personal passions.

Functioning effectively in a capitalist society depends on understanding how capitalism works.

We cannot say we have prepared our students to succeed in the American economy until they understand personal financial management – like how compound interest works, how to apply for a mortgage, how a credit score is calculated, and what makes a good investment.

Yet few schools in New Jersey – or anywhere else for that matter – integrate financial education adequately into the curriculum.

The JumpStart Coalition – an organization that promotes financial literacy – found that 65% of all high school graduates couldn’t pass an exam on basics like credit card costs, saving for retirement, and purchasing insurance.

That failure, is why I fought so hard in the Senate to promote financial literacy for the American people – for students, seniors, and the poor.

And it’s why – in a Corzine Administration – financial education will be taught right alongside reading, writing, and arithmetic.

In every area, teachers are at the heart of my commitment to invest in the best public education for New Jersey’s children.

Joyce – I am so proud to have received the endorsement of the 190,000 teachers and education support professionals of the New Jersey Education Association. I have listened to and I plan to continue to work with teachers, education support professionals, and parents every step of the way.

To ensure that every student has access to a highly qualified teacher, we must expand professional mentoring programs and attract more certified math and science teachers. I have called for a tax credit or loan forgiveness of up to five thousand dollars for new math and science teachers.

And to make the learning environment positive for both teachers and students, we need to ensure that our schools are as safe and secure as they can be. This means maintaining Governor Codey’s commitment to making the schoolhouse walls a fortress against the gang violence and street crime that undermine teaching and learning.

I believe the only achievement gap in New Jersey should be the distance between the school bus and the schoolhouse doors. My education plan will implement strategies that we have seen work – like smaller learning environments, a stronger curriculum, and state-of-the-art facilities – to help minority and underachieving students make up ground in reading and math.

We also must demonstrate a full commitment to educating children with special needs by increasing the number of trained special education teachers, emphasizing transition plans for those students, and offering incentives to school districts that educate special needs students closer to home.

For the highest need students, I will review regionalization strategies. For instance, children with high spectrum autism should be provided with the kind of specialized education environment they need to learn. All our children deserve the best education we can give.

But through it all, we must be mindful to use our education resources wisely. Our schools account for one-third of the state budget – 9.4 billion dollars – and drive 60% of local property taxes – or 10.2 billion dollars.

We must invest in what works. And we must watch carefully how every dollar is spent.

If I am elected, I will ask voters to elect a new state comptroller, with the authority to review all financial decisions so that we root out fiscal mismanagement, waste, and corruption.

We have raised the penalties for scam artists who target seniors. And we should do the same for contactors and government employees who profit at the expense of our children. The cost overruns and mismanagement of the School Construction Fund are a disgrace.

The mismanagement in the SCC steals money from our schools and the dreams of our schoolchildren. This represents the worst kind of failure – undercutting New Jersey’s basic obligation to provide every child with a safe and enriching school environment, and forcing students to languish in dilapidated 100 year-old schools.

Fixing this failure must be a priority.

First – I will hire independent, outside auditors to work with the Inspector General to investigate the utter failure of the state’s school construction program and hold those responsible accountable for their misdeeds.

Second – while some positive steps have been taken under Al Koeppe’s leadership, I will put a management and governance structure in place to ensure every dollar to construct our schools is spent responsibly and directed to our most urgent priorities.

Finally – I will ask voters to approve a new schools bond to honor our state’s responsibility to provide quality school facilities for every child.

With those reforms in place, state funding for school facilities will serve its purpose – to reduce the burden on municipalities, keep property taxes down, and provide all children with a learning environment where they can follow their hopes and dreams.

By making our public schools beacons of excellence, we can give every child in New Jersey a chance to get ahead and achieve the American Dream.

After protecting the safety of our families, educating our children must be the state’s highest priority.

In the nineteenth century, New Jersey committed itself to public education – enshrining a right to a high quality public education for every child in our state constitution. Now, in the 21st Century, we need to honor that enduring commitment and ensure that our schools give all children an honest chance to follow their dreams.