ICYMI: Buono's education plan 'ridiculous,' and preschool is 'babysitting'

In Case You Missed It, this is my story in yesterday's paper about Gov. Christie's thoughts on Barbara Buono's education plan:

BEACH HAVEN, N.J. - Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono unveiled an education plan this week, and Republican Gov. Christie has only one thing to say about it.

"Her plan is ridiculous," he said.

"So responding to the substance of it is folly, because the substance doesn't matter. She has no way of paying for it."

That means he won't address her specific proposals, such as her call for expanding preschool, nor will he revisit his own 2009 comments deriding preschool as merely "babysitting."

Buono's K-12 proposals would add $3 billion to the approximately $33 billion budget, Christie said, and would require a 30 percent increase in income taxes.

"The same way if she said yesterday that she wants to send a New Jerseyan to the moon, I wouldn't talk about whether I agree with going to the moon as opposed to Mars," Christie said. "I'd first say, how are you going to pay for sending someone to the moon?"

Speaking at a sun-splashed news conference after welcoming students back for the first day at the Sandy-damaged Beach Haven School on Long Beach Island, Christie focused on how just one of the more than 300 schools affected by the storm still remains closed.

"This is a pretty amazing accomplishment when you think about everything we went through and all the damage that was done," Christie said.

The 101-year-old Beach Haven School, just two blocks from the ocean, opened this week after $2 million in renovations.

Christie began his morning taking questions from students. He said that his favorite animal is a horse, that he has never been to Puerto Rico, and that he would like to travel to China.

Then he faced questions from reporters. In light of Buono's call for expanding early childhood education in New Jersey, he was asked about a comment he made during a 2009 gubernatorial campaign debate, in which he criticized Gov. Jon S. Corzine for wanting universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds.

"We have a nursery school industry in this state that has been built up, where people have built up businesses, invested their income, invested their savings, and he is going to wipe them out with one stroke of the pen because he's decided the government should babysit for children?" Christie asked at the time. "It's simply wrong."

Asked Wednesday if he still thought preschool was babysitting, he didn't directly answer and focused on the costs of early childhood education.

"Listen, I'd like to hand out $100 bills on the corner to everybody too, that'd be a great idea," Christie said.

Buono, a state senator from Middlesex County, offered few details about how she would pay for her broad education plan when she released it Tuesday, other than to say she wanted to raise income taxes on high earners. She said she would prioritize education in her budgets, as opposed to Christie, who cut $820 million in school aid in his first year in office.

Despite the fact that some of those cuts directly affected early childhood education, the state spends more money on pre-K than any other in the country, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. It ranks 16th in the nation for the percentage enrollment of 4-year-olds and second for 3-year-olds, the institute said.

This year, according to the New Jersey Department of Education, the state will pay for more than 53,000 preschoolers, most from poor districts, to go to school.