There are no surprises in Governor Chris Christie’s FY18 State Budget, presented to the Legislature on February 28. The Governor has, for the eighth straight year, ignored New Jersey’s school aid formula, the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), and flat school aid is again the order of the day.
In addition to shortchanging school districts, the Governor resurrected his voucher proposal, so-called “opportunity scholarships.” The Governor again seeks an appropriation of $1 million to fund the proposal.
Each time the Governor has included funding for vouchers in his budget, the Legislature has taken them out. Legislators are expected to do the same this year. But this time, much more is at stake. President Trump and his Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, have made no secret of their plan to use federal dollars to entice states to enact or expand voucher programs.
With a high performing public school system, there is virtually no support for vouchers in New Jersey. Yet given the threat that the Trump Administration will try to force vouchers on states, it is imperative that Governor Christie’s proposal again be axed from the State Budget.
Keeping vouchers out of New Jersey is also backed up by newly released evidence that vouchers don’t improve student outcomes.
Three different research studies have found that student achievement did not improve through implementation of voucher programs. In fact, researchers found that voucher students fared worse academically compared to their closely matched public school peers. One study conducted by the conservative think tank, the Thomas B. Fordham institute, and financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family foundation, found that Ohio students who went to private schools after attending high performing public schools fared considerably worse than initially predicted. Voucher students in an Indiana program experienced significant losses in achievement and no improvement in reading after transferring to private schools. A Louisiana voucher program study found large negative results in both reading and math where students who started the year at the 50th percentile fell to the 26th percentile in one year.
These and other studies show that, in addition to draining scarce resources from public schools, vouchers don’t improve student outcomes.
But evidence and data have never deterred Governor Christie. Nor do they matter to President Trump and Education Secretary DeVos. Results don’t matter when the overriding goal is the privatization of public education.
Education Law Center urges the Legislature to again remove the Governor’s proposal to divert public funds to support private and religious schools, especially at a time when our public schools are severely underfunded. Beyond that, ELC is prepared to lead the fight to “Just Say No” to Secretary DeVos if she tries to entice the Garden State to enact a voucher program with the promise of federal funding. Let’s send a clear message: New Jersey is a voucher-free state, and we intend to keep it that way.
Policy and Outreach Director
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Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications