Last week I testified before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee in favor of S-1872 – the Opportunity Scholarship Act, which is a euphemism for “school vouchers.” It was very appropriate that I do so in as much as I the co-prime sponsor of the bill that established the charter school program in New Jersey. After hearing all the other testimony, I was dismayed that the Legislature has taken over a decade to finally get around to the next logical step, which is providing school vouchers to facilitate school choice.
It was also disconcerting to hear Senators Lesniak and Kean have such difficulty explaining their bill and Senator Buono demonstrating her ignorance of education funding. I think she is trying to become the Nancy Pelosi of New Jersey. She even has that same blank expression on her face.
Currently 11 states have an opportunity scholarship or voucher program in place. Studies indicate that such programs have improved student test scores, produced greater academic achievement, broke down racial barriers and increased civic responsibility. More important, they saved taxpayers millions of dollars.
Opponents to these programs cite a recent study that showed some Milwaukee charter schools not performing as well as the public schools. There are two flaws with their example. First, charter schools are only one part of the choice program. Parochial, private and even other public schools are recipients of voucher students. The second flaw is that, when schools began losing students through vouchers, those schools improved their academic standings as well. The fact is that vouchers and school choice work on more than one level.
So why has New Jersey been dragging its feet?
The answer is simple, the recalcitrent New Jersey Education Association (NJEA.) By allowing vouchers and school choice, the NJEA would have to admit that all of their teachers are not created equal and not all schools provide a quality education. Such admissions are anathema to their core beliefs and violate their Marxist principles.
The sad part is that many legislators – mostly Democrats – rely so heavily upon the NJEA for campaign money, volunteers and phone banks that they are afraid to vote against them. Ironically, when scanning the hearing room, the supporters of S-1872 consisted of what was traditionally considered to be the Democrat base – urban, African-American, Latino, Catholic and Jewish educational groups were all represented.
So, what is a Democrat to do? Should they give their constituents what they want or do they allow the NJEA to impede progress and maintain its stranglehold on New Jersey’s school children? Or perhaps, they’ll just sit back and let the Marxists in black robes who sit on the NJ Supreme Court screw up the entire situation even more.
No matter how it plays out, if things don’t change we all lose and the biggest losers are not the fatsos on TV, they are NJ’s urban school children and the parents who want something better for their kids.