There's an old saying that, "New Jersey is a nice place to be from." Despite its reputation and the brunt of numerous jokes, New Jersey soon may be the place for cutting edge education reform. At least from an education freedom viewpoint, our friends to the north are getting closer to bringing education freedom and choice to families than we are here in Virginia. Earlier this month, the New Jersey Senate advanced a bill similar to legislation The Family Foundation advocates for here in Virginia that creates a tax credit for donations made to private scholarship foundations. The foundations then can give scholarships to students that meet certain eligibility criteria so that they can attend a school of their choice. Unflattering, and deceptively called a "voucher" by opponents and the mainstream media, these scholarship programs have seen great success in several places, from Florida to Pennsylvania.
The fact that New Jersey is attempting to join the growing list of states that offer this education freedom while Virginia continues to stall shows just how quickly we are falling behind more modern education movements in other states. The legislation in New Jersey faced the opposition of the powerful New Jersey Education Association (sister to our own anti-reform, left-wing Virginia Education Association). But through the leadership of Governor Chris Christie and several Democrat legislators, including a key committee chairman, the bill is advancing — complete with the drama of the Senate committee moving its meeting outside the capitol so that thousands of school choice advocates holding a rally could hear the debate.
Opposition to education reform, such as scholarship programs, continue to be stuck in the past. African-American leaders and legislators all over the country are beginning to reject the typical accusations that these tax credits will "drain money from public schools" or reestablish segregation. Even the Newark Star-Ledger, which has one of the most liberal editorial boards in the nation, has endorsed the tax credit bill.
In fact, the bill introduced by Delegate Jimmie Massie (R-72, Henrico) during this year’s legislative session would have saved the state and local governments money while reducing class sizes (children leaving for private schools), thereby improving teacher-student ratios, something the education establishment claims it wants. Far from hurting low-income families in urban areas, the private-aid scholarship program the bill would establish would provide them a way out of failing schools that are not meeting their needs nor preparing them to be able to compete in a global economy.
Momentum for school choice is growing. Successful programs in Florida, Arizona and other states are improving education outcomes for many children, despite efforts to block them. In the Arizona case, the U.S. Supreme Court will review a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision declaring education freedom is unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit is the most overturned appeals court in the nation and is infamous for its overtly radical decisions. Stay tuned. There will be a lot of action in on this important matter in New Jersey, Arizona and even here in Virginia.