The Star-Ledger’s PolitiFact Truth-O-Meter decided to rate a statement uttered by Save Our Schools-NJ’s spokesperson, Julia Sass Rubin, who is lobbying hard against the Opportunity Scholarship Act. Ms. Rubin said”(The Opportunity Scholarship Act) would be funded directly from public school budgets. So it would absolutely take money out of the public school system to transfer to private and religious schools.”
Politifact rates her statement “mostly true” because, while there’s actually no direct link between public school budgets and the proposed bill, state taxpayers still have to compensate for tax credits given to corporations who sponsor scholarships for poor kids stuck in failing schools. But both Ms. Rubin and the Ledger miss an important point, one that seems to confound those who regard public school funding as some sort of pristine enterprise in which the pond scum coating private money never taints the public flow of holy water into school balance sheets.
In fact, private money is a big part of public education, at least in New Jersey, and has been for many years. Maybe it’s a well-kept secret (although both Ms. Rubin and the Star-Ledger should know better) so let’s look more closely at how our large urban districts use private money and “transfer it to private and religious schools” in funding preschool programs.
I chose three districts: Paterson, Newark, and Trenton. They’re all Abbott districts, so they must provide 3-5 year-olds with early childhood education. It’s not cheap, of course. For the school year 2011-2012 Paterson appropriated $47.9 million, Newark spent $87.9 million, and Trenton appropriated $26.8 million. So where does that public money go?
If you’re a Paterson resident you can choose among 30 private programs, including Calvary Baptist Preschool, Dorothy’s Little Tots, and St. Joseph’s Child Care. If you’re a Newark resident you can choose among 40 preschools, including Kiddie Korner Learning Center, Full Gospel Christian Academy, and Holiness Pentecostal Church of Christ Christian. If you’re a Trenton resident you can choose among 26 private providers and 10 in-district preschools, including Noah’s Ark Preschool, Trinity Cathedral Academy, and True Servant Preschool Academy. In all cases, parents choose the program and the district pays tuition directly to the private and religious preschools.
All providers, public and private, are vetted by the district and the State, and all must conform to mandated curricula. This marriage works well for all concerned and no one seems bothered by the wedding of private institutions and public school districts.
In fact, private money is infused into public school budgets in all sorts of ways. For example, schools that are In Need of Improvement under NCLB are required to provide after-school tutoring. Most districts contract those services out to private companies. Districts regularly sign contracts with private companies to provide speech and occupational therapists, nurses, instructional aides, even janitors. All district pay private legal firms to represent them. They hire private engineers and contractors for building construction; some of those costs are borne by local taxpayers and some by the State.
Reasonable people can disagree about the virtues of the Opportunity Scholarship Act. But Ms. Rubin’s point of contention — that there’s something deviant or unprecedented about using public money for private and religious schools — is either ignorant or deliberately misleading.
You've got it backwards: public money is often used to purchase ed services from private contractors–including many out-of-district placements in special ed programs around the state. In these cases, however, the local board of ed controls the dispersals. The OSA program would divert Gen Fund monies at the source away from potential use in public schools.
What about the monies that are lost due to poorly planned/delivered education?
Does anyone ever talk about this?
An example: District “A” receives millions of dollars from state, federal and local taxpayers, but district “A” fails to educate children in its district by A)poor choices, B)nepotism, C)patronage, D)favoritism; thus chldren from district “A” can not receive a good education despite the large investment made on his district. Isn't this lost money too?
Worst, who is making these districts accountable? And why aren't more people concerned about how money gets spent on district “A”?
It is all good to oppose OSA and claim that “monies will be lost to private and religious entities”, but how about the waste of intellect that has been occurring on districts like district “A”?
Those who oppose OSA should also demand accountability from failing districts.
As the Education Law Center has pointed out to you on numerous prior occasions, the publicly-funded pre-school program is tightly regulated and functionally run by the public school system. The private schools that would be the recipients of diverted public school dollars under the voucher scheme are completely unregulated — lacking in standards and prone to abuse, exploitation and discrimination.
“Private schools that accept public funds under a voucher scheme are not publicly accountable for the use of the funds. They are not required to meet State public school standards on academic content and performance, or the accountability benchmarks set by the State under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Further, religious schools are not bound by laws prohibiting discrimination based on religion and are free to reject students on this basis.
In sharp contrast, childcare and Head Start programs that choose to participate in the Abbott pre-k program must meet the State’s rigorous early education quality standards, and demonstrate accountability for both educational and fiscal performance – the same standards that apply to preschool programs in public schools.”
I agree, Maria.
In fact (and this goes to your point, Julia), I think that all schools funded even in part by public dollars should be held to academic and fiscal accountability standards. That goes for Abbott preschools (which already are, as Julia points out), public charters (which now are, due to recent legislation) and schools that accept OSA students.