Tag Archive: school choice

The school choice “reformers” aren’t talking about

This Labor Day weekend, this Courier-Post article caught my eye. It describes the state’s interdistrict school choice program, and describes the increased number of districts opening up their seats to children from other districts.

I noticed something about the districts though: they are almost all older suburban districts such as Brooklawn, Collingswood, and Lawnside. Not districts with the top schools in the area – the Eveshams, Haddonfields, and Mount Laurels.

That’s because the state progam is voluntary. And it appears that each district has to make a choice: what is worth more to them, the extra cash the program brings, or the “value” of excluding lower-income kids, predominantly of color, from their schools?

To their credit, some districts, such as Brooklawn which is quoted in the article, have recognized that racial and economic diversity are positive, rather than negative, factors in education.

But why is that recognition limited to older suburbs? Some of the wealthier districts probably don’t have extra space. But I highly doubt there is a total correlation here.

Why don’t the school “reformers” talk about these kinds of issues more? We have lots of great schools already – public schools, with unionized teachers – in places like Haddonfield, or Livingston, where hedge funder and school reformer David Tepper lives. Why aren’t the reformers on the front lines demanding that the children that they are trying to “save” in Camden and Newark be admitted to Haddonfield and Livingston schools? Surely such opportunities would be greatly helpful to many children.

It’s easy to tell someone living somewhere else to reform their schools. It’s a lot harder to actually take on the task in your community. And to be fair, this separates out some of the reform community from others – like the Catholic Church who has worked hard to provide educations to poor kids in their own institutions.

But other reformers living in wealthier towns – will you demand that your own schools be part of the solution? And if not why not?

It’s just a smaller part of the question we all should ask this Labor Day – are we all part of one America where everyone’s work is valued and people of all backgrounds are welcomed as our peers and neighbors? Or are we headed back towards the caste society that unions were formed to overcome?

The One Where huntsu Goes Off The Rails on Public Education

I’m reading an article in PolitickerNJ, a site that has atrophied and shriveled since it lost Wally Edge, and am once again pulling the hair out of my head.

Darryl Isherwood wrote the following insanity:

As it is currently implemented, the school funding formula is all about taking money from taxpayers to give to “certain taxpayers” to educate their kids.  What Giordano objects to is using it for private schools.

Isherwood equates the state providing extra tax dollars to communities where education is more expensive with using tax dollars to pay for private education with no public oversight.

This exhibits a dramatic ignorance of what publicly funded education is about.  He’s swallowed the right wing idea that it’s about taxpayers getting a bang for their buck, and in particular taxpaying parents.

I’ll repeat myself: It’s not about the taxpaying parents.

More below the fold

E3 and the Education Lobbying Business

Last week the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) released data indicating lobbying expenditures jumped 14% to $65 million in 2010. (Currently only lobbying of state officials is subject to disclosure.) Notable was the increase in education lobbying, particularly on communications (primarily TV, radio, and printed mailers.) As Jeff Brindle, Executive Director of ELEC points out, “The center of lobbying activity seems to be shifting away from more traditional personal lobbying to grassroots lobbying … to get public opinion on your side.” Much attention was focused on NJEA which reported the highest communications outlays of $6.6 million, as well as Reform Jersey Now which was the 4th highest spender at $403,000.

Less attention was paid to Newark-based Excellent Education for Everyone (E3) which advocates for choice and vouchers. Its most recent available financial report (form 990) for 2009 indicates the organization’s total expenditures were $1.9 million. E3 reported to ELEC the second highest communications outlay in 2010 of  $459,000. This represents a staggering almost ten fold increase over its 2009’s expenditure of  $50,000. And E3 is only one of many NJ groups advocating similar principles.

E3, its Executive Director Derrell Bradford, and its 2009 lobbyist Henry Levari worked strenuously for bill S1073 (A355) to establish an interdistrict public school choice program, which was signed into law by Governor Christie last year. They are now lobbying for S1872 (A2810) “Opportunity Scholarship Act” which would effectively create New Jersey’s first private school voucher program. The bill passed an Assembly committee but there remain differences with the Senate version. Strong supporter Governor Christie also appointed E3’s Derrell Bradford to the nine-person Educator Effectiveness Task Force which on March 3 made recommendations including a new teacher evaluation system and principal evaluation system.

Frustrated parents, concerned educators, lobbyists, consultants, and for-profit companies seeking to increase their education portfolio are forming a powerful phalanx. My experience with charter schools has been limited to interactions with a non-profit group over a 12 month period which was seeking to open such a facility. In this instance I was surprised how little discussion there was regarding curriculum and quality and how much attention was focused on financials and the opportunity to generate income for the parent organization. Not all charters are founded on the same principle, but the predominance and preemininence of public school education are increasingly under severe challenge by well-heeled advocates for a new business model.    

School Choice I Can Get Behind

I am a big opponent of private school vouchers for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the dishonesty and mendacity of many of the supporters who are more interested in helping Christian schools and harming government programs than in actually educating people.

But the primary reason is that I truly believe in public oversight of public funds, and when public funds are diverted to private schools there is no longer oversight.  People pay taxes to support educating young people to become productive members of society, and then their taxes are used to support schools that may be teaching things they oppose.  And there’s no way to stop it — no elections, no public meetings, no PTA, no nothing.  The private school gets public funds and no public oversight.  

But I am not against school choice, or competition as a good thing in government.  In fact, giving parents more choice in where and how their kids are educated is a damned good thing.

Which is why this bill to allow students to attend public schools in other districts is a good start.  There are issues with how this is funded, how many students each district has to take, what parameters districts will use to select students to accept, etc.  It’s a difficult process, but a good and necessary one.

And it will blunt the obvious intention of the Christie administration to implement private school choice and damage public education and the teacher’s union.  That’s a good thing.