NJ Black Ministers Council Director Endorses Chris Christie Over Democrat

NJ. Com : TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie's strong support of school vouchers today earned him the endorsement of Bishop Reginald Jackson, one of New Jersey's most influential black ministers.

Jackson, the executive director of the New Jersey Black Ministers Council and a Newark community leader, described himself as a Democrat and noted that he endorsed Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine in 2009 when Christie first ran.

But Jackson today said state Democratic lawmakers have disappointed him by refusing to pass the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a bill that would give children in low-performing urban schools a publicly funded scholarship to attend a private school or another public school instead.

State Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), the Democratic candidate for governor this year, opposes the bill. Jackson called Buono a "wonderful, warm and genuine person," then launched a scathing critique on her party.

"A quality education is a civil right, and it is sad for me to see my party, which embraced the Civil Rights movement, now in New Jersey blocking low-income and minority children from escaping the slavery of failing schools," Jackson said at a Statehouse news conference, standing next to Christie and a group of black ministers from across the state.

Democrats who have thwarted the bill so far, including Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex), have said the state's top priority should be improving public education, not using public funds to fund private schools. The state's largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, says there's no evidence supporting the use of vouchers.

Jackson said he agreed that public schools should be fixed, but that vouchers are crucial in the meantime as an "emergency exit" because hundreds of thousands of mostly minority students in low-performing schools have not received a quality education for more than 30 years and "tens of thousands more have dropped out of school."

"(Buono) does not recognize the basic unfairness of making low-income parents wait without a choice for their children," he said.

Jackson said he waited to see if, in the absence of the full bill, Democrats would approve a $2 million pilot program for school vouchers that Christie proposed in this year's budget. But Democratic leaders removed the program before passing the $33 billion budget last month, which Christie then signed.

The minister said he endorsed Christie despite his veto last year of a minimum-wage increase proposed by Democrats, and despite the high unemployment rate among blacks during the Republican governor's first term. He described it as a "personal endorsement"; the nonprofit Black Ministers Council, a tax-exempt religious group, cannot by law endorse candidates.

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