Deep in South Jersey, on the sprawling grounds of a summer camp surrounded by rolling farmland, Upper Pittsgrove Township is about to have something in common with the state's big cities.
The Salem County town, marked by cornfields and country roads, will soon play host to a charter school -- perhaps the most visible sign yet of the controversial and far-reaching expansion of school choice in New Jersey.
It's also the newest chapter in the ongoing debate about the future of New Jersey's public schools, one that centers on whether it's better to invest in traditional schools or let families vote with their feet.
Supporters say a charter school in South Jersey farm country could be a step toward closing a glaring inequity in the state's rural communities, where families don't have access to charter schools and can't afford private academies.
But critics worry the expansion of charter schools -- long clustered in urban areas to serve low-income families with poorly rated schools -- will only exacerbate the declining resources of traditional public schools.
I left these comments, slightly edited:
Year after year resources are drained from taxpayers, parent and non-parent alike, to fund a bloated “investment” into the government education monopoly. Now that parents gain some small measure of choice in directing the flow of some of their own education tax dollars into schools they judge to be better options for their children, reactionary defenders of the monopoly have the nerve to object to “declining resources of traditional public schools?” Why is it “investment” when a dictatorial education elite spends the money according to its agenda, but not when “families vote with their feet?”
Charter schools are a start. Universal school choice would liberate every parent and taxpayer to direct the flow of their own education dollars to the schooling of their choice--charter or traditional, private or public, profit or non-profit, including homeschooling. The “resources of traditional public schools” belong first and foremost to the individual taxpayer, who has first moral claim on how to invest it. The entrenched public school establishment, including the “teachers” union and their “progressive” political allies, exists in its current monopolistic form and draws its power because of governmental force--taxation and truancy laws. That’s morally wrong. This coercive establishment has no inherent or automatic claim on any individual taxpayer’s education tax dollars. Every dollar of the per-pupil cost of tradition government schools should be directed to the education facility of the parent/guardian’s choice on behalf of her own child.*
Educational choice is a moral, pro-liberty imperative in the same way and for the same reasons as the Abolitionist, Women’s Suffrage, and various Civil Rights (e.g. Black, Native American, Gay Pride) movements of American history.
* [I want to add, for the record, that I favor a complete separation of education and state. That means no education taxes and no government-run schools. It means no government “oversight” except in instances of objectively provable child neglect. It means a completely free education market.
[I would usually make this disclaimer in my comments, even as I argue for the half-step of tax credits or ESAs. But the NJ Star-Ledger has a new comment policy that limits comments to 1800 characters. This forces me to essentialize my argument--not entirely a bad thing, given my penchant for wordiness.]
Charter Schools – Good, but Not the Long-Term Answer
Newark's Successful Charter Schools Under Attack—for Being Successful
Charter Schools and their Reactionary Enemies--Part 1
Charter Schools and their Reactionary Enemies--Part 2
Charter Schools and their Reactionary Enemies--Part 3
Toward a Free Market in Education: School Vouchers or Tax Credits?