I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What Happened To Vouchers?

A while ago, I speculated that there may be some friction between the various factions in the New Jersey reformy world. I'm wondering if we're starting to see another rift emerge.

Yesterday, I offhandedly asked whether vouchers were part of the B4K agenda for "reform." Curious, I went to the B4K website and looked up their view on the matter:
... B4K supports the implementation of a targeted scholarship program that focuses on low-income children in the lowest performing of the former Abbott districts, such as Camden and Newark, or districts with similar conditions, as it would give children the option to attend a participating public school that opts into the program, or a private school approved by the Commissioner of Education that offers the same testing, reporting, and transparency for parents that B4K supports in its broader reform agenda. [emphasis mine]
Now that's odd: I would have expected an outright endorsement of the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA), the voucher scholarship bill that has been stuck in the Legislature for a long time. I can't find an endorsement or a rejection of OSA on B4K's website; however, when Tom Moran interviewed B4K funder David Tepper for his hagiographic piece, Tepper's endorsement of vouchers was more than a little weak:
Tepper’s views 
at a glance [...] 
Vouchers: He supports a pilot program in failing districts, as envisioned in the pending Opportunity Scholarship Act, but believes it should be tried in only a few districts at first. “It’s a good idea that got out of hand.” [emphasis mine]
"Got out of hand"? Not exactly the sort of ringing endorsement that OSA supporters would want, especially since the bill is tied up again and is reportedly stalled until after the elections - right at the same time B4K's agenda is being taken up. And it's more than a little odd that B4K isn't behind OSA, because, until very recently, the state's biggest voucher cheerleader was B4K's current Executive Director, Derrell Bradford.

Before he took the job at B4K, Derrell was actually the CEO of Excellent Education for Everyone (E3), the state's largest pro-voucher group. In fact, after his post-college stint writing for a nightlife magazine, Derrell went right to E3 and cut his teeth in the reformy world as its "poster boy" for OSA:
Bradford is a poster boy for the group he represents. He grew up in a poor Baltimore family and attended a prestigious prep school,  thanks to a merit scholarship. His “pish posh” high school education, followed by a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania, catapulted him into what he calls “the really fabulous life I now am fortunate enough to lead.”  
  At Penn, he befriended the daughter of E3’s founder, Peter Denton,  and he’s worked there since 2002. E3 advocates for publicly funded school vouchers for private schools and access to the best academic environments for children in urban areas.  
  Bradford favors the Opportunity Scholarship Act, which would give tax credits to New Jersey businesses that fund low-income students in underperforming public schools who want to go to private schools or better public schools.  
  Bradford predicts the state will see more charter schools, private school choice, teacher quality reforms and more accountability in 2011. A shift is evident already, he said: “There are thousands of kids in New Jersey and throughout America that are what I was, and the one thing they need is a chance to go to a school that makes their learning and their lives a priority,” he said.
Bradford was happy to use his life's story to promote OSA when he was at E3:
A long path from southwest Baltimore: A scholarship landed him at the prestigious St. Paul’s School in Baltimore, that helped him into University of Pennsylvania, where he became friends with the daughter of Peter Denton, the man and the money behind E3. "I went to this hoity-toity high school and it saved my life. All I want is other people to have the same opportunity as me."
I don't know what prompted Bradford to leave E3 for B4K. He clearly made a good buck at E3 (six-figures even before he took the big job, according to IRS reports at Guidestar ; sure beats teaching!). Maybe he got a better deal.

But I - and, I'm guessing, many of the people he used to work with at E3 - am left wondering how he feels about OSA these days.

What do you say, Derrell? Is B4K behind the OSA as it stands now? I'm sure many folks are very curious to know.

ADDING: Did this happen? From June of 2011:
Excellent Education for Everyone (E3), the group that has championed the bill for nearly a decade, has plans for what executive director Derrell Bradford called an “intensive” campaign in the lead-up to the legislature’s extended summer and fall election break.
I must have missed that, because I really don't remember anything coming out from E3. And then, ten days later, Derrell walked out the door.



Anonymous said...

Sure, everyone will get vouchers to the Lawrenceville School, the Hun School, the Peddie School, the Pennington School, the Stuart Country Day School, etc. Who will pay for the busing and the tuition for these elite schools which range from about $25,000 to $38,000? Most of these schools are very picky, they do not accept all applicants, they sure as hell aren't going to accept kids with learning disabilities or a history of behavioral problems. They can counsel out (eject) any kid at any time who is a drain on their bottom line. This is nuts, it's crazy, "we" (the privatizers and charter school/voucher mob) are aggressively destroying our traditional public school system for some horrible supposed free market ideology.

Anonymous said...

It seems, like Judas, Mr. Bradford got his 30 pieces of silver and all those "tens of thousands of lives" he needed to save RIGHT NOW with vouchers suddenly aren't his concern. Sickening.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, he only cares about the 100,000 of thousands of lives that he could save by running a bigger organization. Scale is a bitch huh?