Schools in New Jersey's poorest performing districts will be competing for $5 million to implement a pilot program with longer school days and longer school years if one of Gov. Chris Christie's Fiscal Year 2015 state budget proposals is approved.

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On Thursday, a member of the state Senate Budget Committee asked the governor's education chief about the plan.

State Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Red Bank) asked acting Department of Education commissioner David Hespe to explain why the pilot program would be a good idea.

"Oftentimes education is about time, not about outcomes and results, and what the governor is saying is that that has to change," Hespe said. "The outcome has to be fixed and the time needs to be variable according to the needs of the individual student."

The plan is called the Education Innovation Fund. It would be a competitive program where schools can offer proposals for the best ways to implement an increase in students' learning time.

"We're going to support ideas not coming from us down," Hespe said. "We're going to support ideas coming from educators in the school up, as to how you personalize learning (and) how you use time to your advantage, not time as a constraint."

According to Hespe, this is one of the most exciting initiatives he's seen in a long time. Beck asked Hespe if there are studies to back up the notion that this is a good idea.

"The body of research on learning time and personalized learning is significant," Hespe said.

At a recent town hall event, Christie was asked by a 10th-grader about the pilot program. He said Asbury Park is a district that could be a candidate for the program.