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

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Last Thing Atlantic City's Students Need Is School Vouchers

Atlantic City is in big fiscal trouble, and that includes its schools. So what do its leaders think the state should do? An infusion of aid? A new approach to curriculum? A full-frontal assault on childhood poverty?

Nope -- what the kids really need is "choice"!
Atlantic City’s MUA debacle (part of the larger state takeover debate) overshadowed a major development at Wednesday night’s council meeting, Save Jerseyans. 
This November, when voters in A.C. head to the polls, they’ll pass judgment not only on the state-wide casino gaming referendum but also a pair of city-specific school choice ballot questions. 
The questions will read as follows:

Shall the State of New Jersey designate the City to begin offering vouchers to families with children ages 6-16 so they can select the school they want their children to attend?

Shall the State of New Jersey designate the City of Atlantic City to begin offering property tax credits to families with children ages 6-16 who choose to home school?
The resolution (see attached here) was passed unanimously by the Democrat-dominated body and was filed with the Atlantic County Clerk by the August 19th deadline for submitting a non-binding referendum in time for the November ballot. It’s the brainchild of our friend, freshman GOP Councilman Jesse Kurtz, who is himself an NJEA member at Atlantic Cape Community College.
Yes, they are completely serious:
Besides the obvious benefit to students in one of the state’s largest struggling education districts, Councilman Kurtz sees massive near-term and long-term gains for taxpayers.
“It both gives poor families the means to receive the education of their dreams and would save taxpayers between $12,000-to-$15,000 per student who leaves the public school system and opts for a voucher — $5,000 for elementary, $8,000 for high school — not to mention the opportunity for educational innovation with the small private schools that would pop-up to offer different educational options and compete for the vouchers.”
Councilman, can I point out something you probably should have considered before you put this cockamamie idea before the public?

Last year, Atlantic City Public Schools enrolled 7,130 students. By contrast, the two private schools in AC that were listed in the NCES Private School Universe Survey enrolled a total of 168 K-12 students. Not one was in high school.

If, magically, these two schools were able to double in size, they would still only be able to enroll about 2 percent of Atlantic City's students -- again, not one of them would be in high school.

Our Lady Star of the Sea, the far larger of the two, is a Catholic school. Oh, your family's not Catholic?

Too bad.

Of course, we could open up all of Atlantic County to the high school kids. Problem is there are only three schools in the whole county that enroll more than 30 students in a class (all are Catholic). All require admissions applications; one explicitly states it receives more applications than it can accept (and has a tuition of $16,900 a year, not including transportation). What do you think the odds are that these schools can make room for all of ACPS's 1,948 high school students? Especially if they're only getting $8,000 a student in tuition?

The idea that "small private schools would pop-up to offer different educational options and compete for the vouchers" is a libertarian fantasy that has no basis in reality whatsoever. Atlantic City's public school students need well-funded schools right now -- not when some dopey Ayn Rand-ish dream comes to pass, but today.

The last thing Atlantic City should do is divert already scarce funds into a voucher program that would, at best, move a few children into religious schools that would need extra (and costly) oversight after having received public monies.

Someone should tell Councilman Kurtz and the rest of the city council to stop with these goofy schemes and get serious about properly funding their city's schools.

Didn't work out so well, did it?

ADDING: Here's the state's education commissioner on what it would be like to move AC's students to other districts:
New Jersey Education Commissioner David Hespe said Tuesday he is charged with ensuring that the school district receives the local tax levy revenue the city collects on its behalf.
"That money is the school district's money, and, without that, I will have to close the schools of Atlantic City," he said. "Not sure what that moment in time is, but I can tell you I have already started that process by not paying certain vendors of the school district."
If the schools close, Hespe said, moving students to other districts is doubtful.
"There is not much capacity in that area for moving large numbers of children, and that would be very disruptive to their education, and exactly the reason that we went to court because there aren't any solutions," he said. [emphasis mine]
But somehow Kurtz thinks he can find a way to move lots of kids to private schools, and that won't be disruptive. Totally makes sense...

Jersey Jazzman (artist's conception)

ADDING MORE: You might wonder why Councilman Kurtz wants to include homeschoolers in his voucher scheme. After all, current homeschoolers aren't a burden at all on the city's finances; why give them extra funding at a time when the city is in crisis?

Yes, it's exactly as bad as you think: Kurtz is homeschooling his own children. I've confirmed this from two sources.

I have to wonder what the good people of Atlantic City think about this.

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