Voucher Bill Politics

Big day today for advocates and opponents of Senate Bill 1872, The Opportunity Scholarship Act, a voucher bill that proposes to pilot a 5-year program for somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 children who attend the our worst public schools. (Here’s the list of schools, which represent the poorest-performing in the state.) The bill is sponsored by Sens. Raymond Lesniak and Tom Kean, and will get a hearing this morning at the Senate Economic Growth Committee. Rallies are planned, both anti and pro.

The voucher bill’s primary detractors are NJEA and the Education Law Center, a now familiar phalanx. (Interestingly, the ACLU is also campaigning against the bill.) On the other side are a coterie of groups like the NJ School Choice Alliance, the Black Ministers Council of NJ, the Latino Leadership Alliance, and Excellent Education for Everyone. Here’s Rev. Reginald Jackson in today’s Star-Ledger, who begins by recalling the blockage of an earlier permutation of the bill 5 years ago due to “several misguided legislators who took their cues from the New Jersey Education Association and the Education Law Center.” NJ’s “educational establishment,” he continues,
have throttled charters, disguised failure as success with the Special Review Assessment cover-up, and given lip service to nurturing school reform while strangling it in its crib. Indeed, they have taken vast sums of money, nearly bankrupting the state, while our children have paid the price of poor education with dim futures.

Now the NJEA and ELC oppose the bipartisan Opportunity Scholarship Act, a bill that increases choice for children in the state’s lowest performing 205 schools and drives reform in a manner similar to President Obama’s Race to the Top program through competitive grants aimed at turning these schools around...

Still, the NJEA and ELC oppose this bill, which puts children ahead of the next collective bargaining agreement or lawsuit to extract more money for less education reform. Indeed, they damn our children for their failure even as they drive the state to the edge of insolvency. They oppose this bill because it will enable low-income parents to choose the best schools for their children.
Irony resounds. We understand NJEA’s opposition; the bill would ostensibly redirect funds from public schools to private and parochial schools (though check out the amount of bandwidth on its website devoted to anti-voucher ravings, some of it directed right at E3.) It’s the ELC’s opposition that triggers cognitive dissonance. Here we have the primary advocates for NJ’s poorest Black and Hispanic children swept into the dust heap of the “educational establishment” by none other than the Rev. Jackson, sloughed off with those who would, in fact, camouflage failure as success, who would cravenly value money over student achievement. ELC’s somewhat flippant press release called “LET'S FOLLOW THE LEAD OF ILLINOIS LEGISLATORS AND DUMP VOUCHER BILL” doesn’t ease the headache.

Politics makes strange bedfellows? Sure. ELC and NJEA share leadership, specifically Vince Giordano who doubles as ELC’s Trustee and NJEA’s Executive Director? Okay. And yet…

Time for some tylenol.

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