Abbott v. S.F.R.A. UpdateApril 29, 2009
Sunday LeftoversMay 3, 2009
Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Lonegan has some, er, interesting ideas about dealing with N.J.’s public education problems. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, he is proposing that the State give each district a per-pupil contribution, regardless of economic or educational needs. Districts who want to spend more would be free to do so through local taxes. Second, if students fail math or language tests two years in a row, they would get vouchers, presumably from the local district, so that they could attend a private, charter, or parochial school. However, the kids who fail for two years can only apply their vouchers to schools in their district. Not to worry: Lonegan is confident that “the private sector would open schools to take care of the need.”
Where to start? Let’s give Mr. Lonegan the benefit of the doubt and assume that he’s thoughtfully analyzed the repercussions of enacting a system that would grossly augment the disparities among school districts. Rich districts could decide, say, that they want to budget $25,000 per pupil, effectively limiting residence to those who can pay very high taxes. Can’t pay? Move out.
But let’s forget about the fact that N.J.’s public schools are already among the most segregated in the country. Do Lonegan and/or his advisors have any idea how many kids fail math and language tests two years in a row? Districts in N.J. are assigned District Factor Group classifications based on average income. A D.F.G. of “A” is the poorest, and “J” is the wealthiest. Take an average D.F.G. of, say, “DE” – sort of in the middle. Choose a district in that D.F.G., like Sayreville Boro in Middlesex County, a 6th-8th grade middle school. How many of their 427 6th graders failed the ASK 6 test? According to the D.O.E. data, 45.3% failed the Language Arts portion, and 24.8% failed the Math portion. (Actually, that’s fairly average for that D.F.G. across the State.) If those kids don’t do better on the ASK 7, then according to Lonegan’s grand plan, about 200 kids – from a middle school with a total population of 1,372 – would be eligible for vouchers.
What are their options? They can only use their vouchers for schools in their town. In Sayreville, the options are two Catholic schools – St. Stanislauskostka and Cardinal McCarrick – and a Goddard school, which doesn’t take anyone beyond kindergarten age. That leaves “the private sector,” according to Loneghan, which apparently would jump right up and create private schools and charter schools limited to non-Catholic Sayreville residents who fail 6th grade tests. (Note to Lonegan: public schools already pay tuition to charter schools.)
Sounds like this candidate needs to do a wee bit more homework…