With Gov. Chris Christie away a lot lately, the Legislature is becoming more and more the center of the public discussion over education policy in New Jersey.
Charter school oversight, student testing, and the perennial battle over school funding are all coming up in 2015 for the state Senate and Assembly.
Here are 10 legislators who are likely to have the most impact and influence on those deliberations:
1. Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex)
An easy first pick. As the influential chair of the Senate education committee, she’s a required vote on any piece of legislation that has a chance of passage, big or small. She was the chief architect of the state’s new tenure law, which Christie continues to trumpet, but she’s emerging as a chief critic of his administration in its oversight of Newark.
2. Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex)
Not at Ruiz’s level, but he's chair of the Assembly education committee, which controls the docket in the lower chamber. He has been especially outspoken on testing issues of late, and also will be a key voice on any new charter legislation.
3. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester)
The one who sets the agenda in the Senate as a whole. While Ruiz gets most of the attention, Sweeney still must sign off on everything, including the upcoming budget, in which school funding is the biggest piece of the pie. Also as an expected candidate for governor in 2017, we’re already starting to hear more from him on big education issues.
4. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson)
Sweeney’s equal in the Assembly, Prieto has also taken more of an interest in education issues of late, and will carry a similar influence on the state budget. He is credited with shepherding a recent package of bills aimed to help career and vocational schools.
5. Sen. Thomas Kean Jr. (R-Union)
It’s a close race for the most influential Republican in the Legislature, with Kean arguably at the top due to his standing as the Senate minority leader. As the chief sponsor of the long-stalled Opportunity Scholarship Act., he is back in the spotlight after Christie’s call (again) for its passage in his State of the State.
6. Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington)
The leading Republican on the Senate education committee, she is often a broker between the parties on important legislation and one whom Ruiz is said to turn to often for advice.
7. Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington)
The new vice chairman of the Assembly’s education committee has already been one of the chamber’s most prolific when it comes to filing education bills, and his promotion is a sign the two-term legislator is drawing support from the leadership. His reform positions, including new charter-school legislation, could prove an interesting counterweight on the committee to Diegnan.
8. Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex)
Jasey is likely to turn her attention more to higher education, as the Assembly’s new chairwoman of that committee, but she still cochairs the Joint Committee on the Public Schools and has been especially outspoken on putting limits on charter schools and school testing.
9. Assemblyman John Bramnick (R-Union)
Education is not one of his big issues, but he’s still the minority leader in the Assembly and can easily stamp on any chance of veto-proof votes for Democratic bills. As someone often mentioned as a possible GOP candidate in 2017, his profile is sure to rise.
10. Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex)
As co-chair of the Joint Committee, as well as chair of the legislative black caucus, Rice commands attention on his primary issues, education among them. Most notably, that’s been the state’s takeover policies and its performance of late in his hometown of Newark, where Rice is having a field day.