Friday, February 11, 2011

NJ State Senator Tom Kean Jr. on the Opportunity Scholarship Act

New Jersey’s Opportunity Scholarship Act, the tax credit-based, private education voucher bill that sets up a program of school choice for low-income parents whose children attend schools that are “failing”, is marching toward apparent passage into law.

State Senator Tom Kean, Jr., the Republican senate minority leader and co-sponsor, has published an editorial in the NJ Star-Ledger in support of the bill entitled, Give New Jersey kids a chance to escape failing schools. Unfortunately, his support is rather tepid and I believe not consistent with Governor Chris Christie’s radical reform plans. He writes:

The act is in no way an assault on public education. It creates a five-year trial program that allows a select number of children in the 13 worst-performing school districts to choose another public school, or a private or parochial school. That can hardly be classified as an assault on public education.

An “assault on public education” – i.e., government-run schools – is precisely what parental school choice can and should be about. I’ve left the following comments:

Why should only corporations be free to fund only a limited number of children’s educations? Why shouldn’t every taxpayer be free to claim tax credits to fund any child’s education? On what basis can anyone claim that the “best” schools provide a good education across the board? Parents of those schools have no less of a right to choose an alternative than the parents of those “failing” schools in Newark or elsewhere, if their judgement tells them they can do better.

Last May, Governor Christie told the American Federation for Children in Washington, DC that the Opportunity Scholarship Act is only a start that will lead to school choice for every parent in the state. I hope he follows through, and that Senator Kean will support him. Universal tax credits for school choice can and should be implemented, and “financed” by applying the nearly $14,000 per child per year NJ currently spends on public K-12 to cover the “cost”. This is not an assault on “public education”, but on government-run schools, as it should be. The existing public system has no inherent claim on those education tax dollars – those who earned the money in the first place do, and have a moral right to spend it as they see fit. And the public system has no inherent claim on the children – the moral right to determine the course of their children’s education belongs to the parents. We have a government of, for, and by the people – not the other way around.

Empower the parents to choose the education best suited to their children’s needs, and liberate the educators from the oppressive state and union regulations so they can compete for the parents’ business, and NJ will become a beacon of educational excellence. And to those reactionary defenders of the government-run public monopoly, I ask: Why do you insist that the public system continue to collect its revenues and students by force of compulsory taxation and compulsory attendance laws? Don’t you believe that parents armed with choice would voluntarily choose your schools for their children, and voluntarily pay for them?

Let’s find out! Christie has courageously gone on record for tax credit-based universal choice. Tom Kean Jr., his Republican friends, and forward-looking Democrats and Independents should get behind his revolutionary ideas to make it a reality.

Christie’s speech can be accessed @

-Mike LaFerrara, Flemington

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