Sen. Cory Booker sat down for a conversation about public education with NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer at the NJEA Legislative and Political Action Conference. Steinhauer asked Booker questions generated by the audience and even included one that came from a member via Twitter.
Booker focused on the impact of poverty on a child’s ability to be successful in school. He also criticized the government’s skewed funding priorities.
“We as a society are not investing where we should,” Booker said. “We’re happy to build prisons—we are very happy to spend larger and larger budgets in the penal system—but we’re not investing in the front end on schools.”
The discussion touched upon education reform, teacher evaluation, and charter schools.
Steinhauer and Booker agreed that educators themselves should be the leaders in education reform.
“I believe that education reform should be done with teachers, not to teachers,” Booker said. “I am an education reformer, but I want to see reform led by teachers.”
While Steinhauer and Booker found much to agree upon concerning the need to address poverty and putting teachers at the center of education reform, they did not shy away from the senator’s stand on vouchers and the expansion of charter schools. NJEA opposes vouchers, and while it supports high-quality, publicly accountable charter schools, the association questions any unchecked expansion.
A question that came by way of social media during the conference, and asked by Steinhauer, challenged Booker on the growth of charter schools and the planned closure of traditional public schools in Newark where he was mayor from 2006 until last October.
Booker acknowledged his support for vouchers and charters saying that he would not stand in the way of a parent in a high-poverty, low performing school who wants a “way out.” He added, however, that “charters and vouchers will not fix education in high-poverty neighborhoods.”
“My job as a senator on the national level is to fight for the resources that our schools need,” Booker said. “We wouldn’t have a charter movement in America if our schools were fully funded.”
|Left to right: NJEA Assistant Executive Director Steve Swetsky, NJEA Executive Director Ed Richardson, NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Sean Spiller, Senator Cory Booker, NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer, and NJEA Vice President Marie Blistan.