"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, January 31, 2011

New Jersey Alert: Stop School Voucher Bill

 Action Alert

This Thursday, the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee is voting on a voucher bill that would divert more than $1 billion tax dollars to fund private and religious education.  Without strong public opposition, this bill is likely to become law by the end of February.

The bill's supporters are trying to sneak it through before the public becomes aware of the danger and before the state's budget is introduced in three weeks, when we will be told once again that there is not enough money to fund the public schools.  They hope that we don't notice that this bill would divert $1 billion tax dollars from the state's budget to create a new program to fund private and religious education while decimating struggling public school districts.

Only a mobilized public can prevent New Jersey from becoming the first state in the country to adopt such a wide-ranging and destructive voucher system.

You can stop this bill!

Come to the hearing and let the Assembly members know you oppose spending your tax dollars to subsidize private and religious schools, especially when public schools are cutting programs, increasing class sizes, and firing teachers.  The hearing will be Thursday, February 3rd at 1:30 in Committee Room 9 of the State House Annex at 125 West State Street.  Free parking is available underneath the building, from the West State Street entrance.

Bring your kids, to remind the Assembly members of who will suffer if they pass this legislation.

Let your Senators and Assembly members  know that you oppose this legislation.

Write letters to local and state-wide newspapers to let others know why you oppose this legislation.

Forward this information to your friends and family members and encourage them to come to the hearing or contact their Senators and Assembly members

This legislation is not designed to help poor children who are attending failing schools.  It is meant to be a state-wide voucher program intended to privatize public education in New Jersey.  If it passes the legislature, this will be by far the most extreme and far reaching voucher program in the country.

Education experts have highlighted the disastrous consequences that this legislation would produce.

Here are just a few of the many reasons that Save Our Schools NJ (SOSnj) opposes this legislation:

1. This legislation diverts more than $1 billion tax dollars to private and religious schools at a time when the public schools are struggling after cuts of more than $1 billion dollars last year, with more public school funding cuts expected in this year's state budget.

2. New Jersey already has a public school choice program and public charter schools that provide options for students in low-performing schools. The goal of this program is not to help those students, it is to de-fund the state's excellent public schools.

3. Students from all the districts in the state would be eligible for the vouchers, including those attending excellent schools in high-performing school districts.1

4. The entire $1 billion plus could go to subsidize students already attending private and religious schools.

5. The vouchers would decimate struggling public schools by removing both funding ($8,000 for grades K to 8 and $11,000 for grades 9 to 12) and the easiest-to-educate students.  Since private schools do not have to accept any children who require extra cost or effort, the students able to use the voucher are likely to be the easiest and least expensive to educate, whose marginal cost to their districts is much lower than the amount the districts would lose if these children receive a voucher for private and religious schools.  As a result, the public schools will be left with a concentration of special needs, very poor, and non-English speaking students, and fewer resources with which to educate them.

6. The program’s qualifications are drawn so broadly that almost half of all New Jersey families would qualify for the vouchers.  For a family with three kids, the income cut off is $64,475, which is just under the state's median household income.

7. The program won't help students learn. Even New Jersey's new Commissioner of Education admitted that research consistently shows vouchers do not improve student performance.

8. This legislation uses a gimmick to get around the separation of church and state required in our country's Constitution. Our tax dollars should not support religious education.

9. This legislation does not require private and religious schools to accept any student who wishes to go, enabling them to pick and choose the least expensive and easiest to educate or simply those of a particular religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

10. This legislation does not require participating private and religious schools to provide any special services.  Parents of special needs students must sign a waiver giving up any rights to special services if they take advantage of the vouchers.  Students in poor districts are much more likely to have special needs and require such services.

11.The public school districts are responsible for paying to transport children to the private and religious schools, even if those schools are several hours away, adding hundreds of thousands in additional costs that struggling districts must fund. 

12.This legislation does not apply any educational standards or accountability measures to the private and religious schools that would receive the public dollars. Not only is this in sharp contrast to the intense state scrutiny that public schools undergo, it also could lead to public dollars being used to pay for programs that are harmful to children and violate the moral and ethical standards of taxpayers, such as those that might teach intolerance and bigotry.

13.This legislation is wasteful.  Even its supporters admit they don't need such generous vouchers.  Plus, it spends an additional $50 million tax dollars to create and fund a new bureaucracy to oversee the program.

1 Page 8 of S1872 states: “If by August 15 of any school year, scholarship funds available for the scholarship organization remain unallocated, then the unallocated funds shall be used to provide scholarships for that school year to low-income children residing in other regions.”

Version of Senate Bill 1872 approved by the Senate Budget Committee on January 20, 2011
Companion Assembly bill A 2810

Sharon Krengel
Policy & Outreach Coordinator
Education Law Center
60 Park Place, Suite 300
Newark, NJ 07102
973-624-1815, x24
973-624-7339 (fax)

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