First, my liberal credentials: Sponsor of abolition of the death penalty; winner of the international human rights award at Le Memorial de Caen for my speech on the death penalty; Co-Prime sponsor of Marriage Equality; Sponsor of the most far reaching environmental protection laws in the nation; Sponsor of reforms to the mandatory minimum school zone drug law; One of three legislators, out of 120, to vote against New Jersey’s version of Arizona’s “papers please” law, the so-called Kyleigh’s law.
There’s more, but that should be enough to have earned the unabashed liberal description. Oh, I was the first to announce I wouldn’t be voting for Christie’s budget without the millionaire’s tax and restoration of $1bil of funding for education, children’s health care and other vital safety net programs.
So what am I doing advocating for taxpayer supported private school scholarships for children from low income families confined to chronically failing public schools? I took a cue from the noted liberal theologian Reinhold Niebuhr who, if he did nothing more than compose the serenity prayer, ranks in the top echelon of those who improved the human condition. Niebuhr originally believed labor unions could do no wrong, but came to believe, as essential as they were for improving the quality of life for working men and women, labor unions could lose sight of their mission and take positions contrary to the interests of their members and society as a whole.
The same is applicable to liberals unassailable belief in public education. Some of our public schools are failing our children, year after year, after year, despite spending more per pupil than any place on the planet.
The unassailable liberal belief is that every child, regardless of family income, race, color or creed, deserves an opportunity to receive a quality education, not that public schools are the only way to achieve that goal.
And continued closings of private schools threaten our ability to provide funding for our public schools, costing taxpayers $600 mil a year for closings over the past 10 years and will cost an additional $1 bil a year if the trend continues unabated.
What New Jersey needs is a strong public and private school system. We can’t turn our backs on the financial stress private school closings place on our public schools, nor should we not avail poor children confined in chronically failing schools an opportunity to choose a private or public school with a better educational track record. My voucher bill is a departure from the belief that public schools are the only way to provide a quality education for all children, a heresy in unabashed liberal circles, but not to JFK who said, “If by a ‘LIBERAL’ they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people: their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties .. if that is what they mean by a Liberal then I’m PROUD to say I’m a ‘LIBERAL!'”
And so am I.