This Week’s Trenton Musings….
Christie Puts OSA in State Budget
May 17, 2013
As far as the legislature is concerned, the Opportunity Scholarship Act is indefinitely on hold. As far as we are concerned, it has died a slow and painful death, one small cut at a time. Senator Raymond Lesniak, its original sponsor, withdrew his support just as the program was being vetted and narrowed to the point where it might actually get somewhere, and Assembly Majority Leader Sheila Oliver is not suddenly going to flop over and stop stonewalling—especially in an election year. The teacher’s union has shown once again just what a stranglehold it has on the majority of legislators in our statehouse.
The Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA) would establish tax credits for businesses that donate to scholarships for low-income children in failing districts to attend better schools. A 2012 Monmouth University poll measured support for the OSA at 55%, compared to 34% opposition.
As stated above, the NJEA is mightily opposed to this program (and by mightily we mean $11 million in lobbying in 2011) because the said districts would lose per-student funding as a limited number of students go elsewhere. Never mind that New Jersey’s failing schools already collect a monstrous payout from other districts’ property taxes, or that per-student funding is supposed to cover per-student expenses, not irreducible district needs. This is not to sneer at the difficulties these districts face, but to point out that decades worth of extra money has not healed these schools. Click here to see that as of the 2009-2010 school year, average Abbott school funding was $20,859 per pupil per year.
So Governor Christie is trying a different approach—one that still requires a confirmation vote from the legislature to succeed, but which also gives him a little more say in the outcome. He has made provision for an OSA-like program in the 2013 budget for New Jersey. He will propose the budget to the Senate, line-items will be disputed, and eventually the budget will go to the Governor’s desk. This version of the OSA is a tiny pilot program that will affect only two hundred kids. And it will give New Jerseyans in desperate cities a chance to see if school choice is really the way ahead. Many other states who have implemented various school choice programs are seeing improvements for those kids fortunate enough to participate in them.
The NJEA wants to block all this, and many legislators in the majority are trapped in their iron grip. But in spite of the corrupt alliance of money and power holding these children hostage, we may yet see some progress. We believe this is a fight worth having.