Newark NJ — July 13, 2010
Growing opposition has stalled the voucher bill, aka the “Opportunity Scholarship Act,” in the NJ Legislature. (See Bill That Would Provide Scholarships for Low-Income Children Facing Stiff Opposition ). But NJ voucher proponents haven’t abandoned their scheme to take public money out of the State treasury, in the form of dollar-for-dollar corporate tax credits, and give it to unaccountable private and parochial schools.
Other states have seen the light and flatly rejected similar voucher schemes.
In early June, the North Carolina General Assembly refused to consider a bill establishing a program that would give individual income tax credits, in the amount of $2500 per child per school year, to families whose children are home-schooled or attend private or public schools that charge tuition.
The North Carolina bill also had a provision that would have allowed children who have never attended public school to claim the tax credit. Similarly, the NJ bill sets aside 25% of all vouchers for students who already attend private and parochial schools.
One reason for staunch opposition to the North Carolina bill, as reported by Karen McMahan in the Carolina Journal, sounds familiar: taxpayer money shouldn’t be funneled to private schools.
A similar bill was also recently rejected in Maryland. The bill, entitled “BOAST: Building Opportunities for All Students and Teachers in Maryland,” would have given businesses a 75% tax credit for contributions to non-profit groups that make vouchers available to students attending private schools, including religious institutions.
Maryland lawmakers were persuaded by arguments made in other states against vouchers, including the absence of educational accountability for schools receiving voucher monies, the drain of much-needed funds from the public school system and the state treasury, and the possible constitutional illegality of directing public tax money to religious groups.
But the issue that ultimately doomed Maryland’s bill was the discriminatory admissions policies adopted by religious schools. The divergence between these admission standards and anti-discrimination laws became glaringly apparent when Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien, speaking before the Maryland House Ways and Means Committee as a representative of the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, refused to ensure that gay and lesbian students, or children of gay or lesbian parents, would not be denied admission on the basis of their sexuality.
Let’s Keep NJ “Voucher Free”
NJ’s voucher bill shares all of the regressive qualities that led to the defeat of the North Carolina and Maryland legislation, as well as similar legislation in Illinois. NJ can no more afford to send public money to private institutions than can North Carolina or these other states. As in Maryland, the NJ bill would allow private and religious institutions receiving public money to continue admission and other practices that violate basic civil rights and anti-discrimination laws, including laws protecting gay and lesbian students.
Let’s take a lesson from North Carolina, Maryland, Illinois, and other states that have rejected voucher legislation. Let’s make sure our legislators understand that vouchers are just wrong — for our students, public schools and taxpayers. Let’s make sure New Jersey, like these other states, stays “Voucher Free.”
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