The following is written by Mary Shaughnessy of Bloomfield, who happens to be on the Bloomfield Board of Ed., but states “the views expressed here are mine alone and do not necessarily represent those of the board.”
Our public schools in New Jersey are under assault by politicians who are quietly working to divert public tax dollars to private and parochial schools under the benignly titled “Scholarship Opportunity Act.”
According to the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association and the New Jersey School Board Association, this back-door voucher bill cuts the full amount of per pupil state aid for any public school student leaving the district with a scholarship for a private or religious school. But there is no cap on the aid a district could lose, and the negative impact on affected districts could be substantial, especially in high needs districts like Bloomfield that are dependent on state aid. Estimates have put that loss up to one billion dollars over the next five years. And 25% of those tax dollars will be awarded to families with children already in private and parochial schools.
All this hit me pretty hard yesterday while researching Bloomfield district history for an ongoing project: I came across a May 15, 1951 edition of the high school student newspaper that carried a five-column-wide headline boasting “B.H.S. Celebrates 100 years of Pubic Education.” The student-penned article reported, “Through the first half of the 19th Century, Bloomfield young people were educated in tuition academies and seminaries.” Under the Free School Law of 1849, the district organized three elementary schools in Bloomfield: one between Clark’s Pond and the Morris Canal, one on “Franklin Hill,” and another near the present location of the administration building. A couple of decades later, Bloomfielders further resolved to enhance public education: “To give grammar school students an opportunity of pursuing more advanced studies and obtaining a higher English and classical education,” the article continued, “a high school was started in what is now the administration building in 1872.”
Now, inconceivably, we have politicians and private interests conspiring to turn back the clock on our already cash-starved public schools in favor of “tuition academies and seminaries,” or “faith-based schools,” as Senator Ray Lesniak calls them. In fact, when he first introduced the bill in 2008, Senator Lesniak, who had apparently found a loophole in our country’s time-honored tradition separating church and state, wrote an editorial touting it as “landmark legislation aimed at nothing less than stopping the collapse of faith-based schools in this state.”
Public education is unquestionably the bedrock of democracy. Unlike private and “faith-based schools,” our public schools embrace and educate ALL children, regardless of economic circumstance or physical infirmity; the brilliant as well as the abused and neglected who often require extra services not provided by private or parochial schools. I refuse to believe that the good people of New Jersey would allow a few politicians to lead us down a path we rejected in the 1850s.
State Senators Ray Lesniak and Tom Kean, Jr. are pushing to make this back-door voucher bill law by the end of February so quick citizen action is needed. Please email these 28th district legislators to insist that they “Just say no!” to this misguided voucher bill: State Senator Ronald Rice; Assemblyman Ralph Caputo; and Assemblywoman Cleo Tucker, as well as State Senator Teresa Ruiz and Stephen Sweeney at SenSweeney@njleg.org, and Assemblyman Albert Coutinho.
Ms. Shaughnessy isn’t the only one against this Act. A group called Save Our Schools NJ is too.