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NJ NEWSPAPERS, AMONG OTHERS, SAY NO TO VOUCHERS

Opposition to the "voucher bill" (S1872, packaged as "scholarships") is growing throughout the Garden State. More and more parents, educators and taxpayers have decided that giving away $360 million in public funds to private and religious schools, without strict accountability for the use of those funds, is a bad deal for public schools and the State Treasury.

Two newspapers have weighed in, reaching the same conclusion:

Press of Atlantic City:

"We have long been opposed, for both philosophical and practical reasons, to using public money to fund education at private, mostly religious schools. And we believe it remains the wrong approach to reforming education."

In a recent editorial, the Press of Atlantic City voiced opposition to S1872, which the newspaper called "a back-door approach to vouchers." Noting that the bill would divert $360 million from the State Treasury in the form of one-to-one tax credits for corporations "at a time when the state is financially squeezed and can't afford to fully fund public schools," the editorial recommends that poorly-performing schools be "reformed and improved."

The Philadelphia Inquirer:

"If it quacks like a duck . . . Right, so why is Gov. Christie trying to camouflage his school vouchers plan as a 'scholarship' program? The misnomer doesn't make what he calls a 'first step' to a 'final solution' any more palatable."

On May 21, the Philadelphia Inquirer, also noting the insanity of removing $360 million from the State budget when aid to schools is being cut by $1.2 billion, used harsh language to express the editorial board's opinion that S1872 is no good for public schools. The editorial states that "alternatives shouldn't punish the children left behind in failing schools" and predicts that S1872 "could have a devastating financial impact on poor school districts," while calling the bill "a sham arrangement that allows the state to pay for vouchers using middlemen."

The Press of Atlantic City and the Philadelphia Inquirer aren't alone in their clear-minded analysis of the voucher bill and its impact on NJ public schools. In a "guest opinion" entitled "Gov. Christie's 'Trickle-Down' Budget," Senator Shirley K. Turner wrote:

"The governor's latest solution to our education crisis is to back a voucher system --- a move that will not only divert more money from public education and put it into private, religious and charter schools, but one that will also blur the lines between separation of church and state if we now start funding religious-based schools."

And in North Jersey, Verona Public Schools Superintendent Charles Sampson and Cedar Grove Public Schools Superintendent Gene Polles spoke to a reporter for the Verona Cedar Grove Times about their opposition to the voucher bill (Education Officials React to Passage of Voucher Bill). Lamenting further reductions in public school funding as a result of the bill, both superintendents noted that the absence of accountability in the proposed voucher program sets a "dangerous precedent."

"If these schools are not held to the same standards as our public schools, I believe we could develop a system that rewards particular schools without holding those institutions accountable for realistic student achievement," Sampson said.

"The absence of any educational accountability for the private and religious schools receiving public education dollars through vouchers is remarkable, given the intense levels of scrutiny the state now places on public schools, especially those with high student need," added Polles.

Clearly, more and more taxpayers, educators, Legislators, clergy, and grassroots organizations across the state are lining up against the voucher bill every day. They know the harm a voucher scheme would do to public education in NJ. Among the organizations that have taken a stand against vouchers are: ACLU-NJ, the League of Women Voters of NJ, NJASA, NJPSA, NJSBA, NJEA, NJ Policy Perspective, NJ Working Families Alliance, Paterson Education Fund, the Urban Schools Superintendents of NJ, SEOC, NJ NAACP, school district leaders, parents, and students.

Efforts are gearing up to make sure Legislators pay attention to the groundswell of opposition to vouchers. ELC encourages those who care about NJ's 1.3 million public school students to stand up to keep our public schools strong.