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Voucher bill approval a “travesty,” says NJEA


Published on Thursday, January 20, 2011

Barbara Keshishian, president of the New Jersey Education Association, said today’s approval of a $1 billion private school voucher bill by a New Jersey Senate committee is “an educational travesty.”

Keshishian said S1872, sponsored by Sens. Raymond Lesniak (D) and Tom Kean Jr. (R), would direct at least a quarter of its funding to families of students already attending private schools.

“How does giving hundreds of millions of tax dollars to students already attending private schools help children in public schools?” she asked.  “In addition to being a giveaway to private schools, S1872 would punish special education students while using public funds to bail out financially failing religious schools.”

Keshishian cited an article by Lesniak on in which he called S1872 “landmark legislation aimed at nothing less than stopping the collapse of faith-based schools in this state.”

The bill, approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee by an 8-5 vote, paves the way for a 5-year pilot school voucher program – the first in the state’s history.  It would allow up to 40,000 students in 13 pilot districts to receive vouchers worth up to $11,000 per year to attend private and religious schools, Keshishian said.

“This legislation would take New Jersey down a road no one ever thought it would travel,” she added. “At a time when our public schools have suffered more than a billion dollars in cuts by the state, S1872 would send up to another billion tax dollars to unaccountable private and religious schools.  That’s an educational travesty.”

The bill essentially says “do not apply” to the parents of special education students, who make up about a fifth of all students in the 13 pilot districts.  It would require them to sign a waiver acknowledging they have no right to special education services.

“This skews the cost of the program, by allowing only students who are less expensive to educate to move to private schools, while leaving more expensive students with special needs in the public schools – which will have fewer resources,” Keshishian said.

“This bill is also unaccountable,” she added, “because the private schools it will benefit do not have to hire New Jersey certified teachers, administer state achievement tests to all students, or even report overall academic results.  And, by refusing to educate special needs students, these schools will be allowed to ‘cherry pick’ students, leaving the most challenging and expensive-to-educate special needs children for the public schools to educate.”

Keshishian expressed outrage at last-minute comments before the committee by Acting State Commissioner of Education Rochelle Hendricks, who was harshly critical of education in the state’s urban districts.

“No one questions the need to improve student achievement in some of our schools, but it is mind-boggling that she could criticize the teachers and students in urban districts when it has been her responsibility – and the direct responsibility of the New Jersey Department of Education – to directly oversee a number of those districts,” said Keshishian. 

“By every measure, this bill is bad policy,” Keshishian said.  “But that didn’t stop this committee from giving it the go-ahead.  It’s another sad day for public education in New Jersey.”