March 19, 2010
By NOAH LIPMAN
Asbury Park Press
In Sunday’s Asbury Park Press, an article in the @issue section posed the question, “Are vouchers boon or bane to education?” Based upon my experience as a teacher in a Title I (formerly “Abbott”) urban high school, I feel compelled to add my voice to the legislation being proposed in Trenton that would give tax credits to state businesses that contribute to a voucher fund for students.
In 2004, following my retirement as a trial attorney in New York City, I began a second career as a high school social studies teacher. I purposely chose an academically challenged urban high school in New Jersey. It is in one of 31 school districts formerly known as “Abbott” districts because of the extra state funding it receives due to a history of economic disadvantage and academic underachievement.
While I have enjoyed the challenges of working with all of the students assigned to my classroom, it has become crystal clear that we are leaving behind many of the students we are supposed to be educating. There are many reasons for this failure, including lowered expectations, a lack of parental involvement and the unwillingness of many students to exert any time or effort to further their education because they see little reason to make such an effort. The issue is not why the students are failing, or who is to blame, but what future steps can be taken to solve the problem.
A voucher payment system, which would allow economically and academically qualified students from a failing public school to receive partial tuition assistance from the state to attend a private school, would not address all the issues responsible for the nation’s achievement gap. It would, however, permit the families of those students who qualify and desire educational success to achieve it. Unfortunately, there is strong opposition to such voucher programs from the New Jersey Education Association.
Concern about the potential loss of jobs for dues-paying members, of which I am one, argues that the only thing our failing schools need is more money. More money has not solved the problems of public schools in Camden, Newark or Asbury Park. Given the current financial condition of the state and a reluctance to replace the regressive local property tax upon which school districts rely with a progressive state income tax, additional spending would only prove counterproductive.
My support for a voucher program is based primarily upon two factors. The first is rooted in the simple supply and demand theory of economics. If poorly performing Title I public schools are forced to compete for the best students, they will raise their standards because they will become extinct if students seek to avoid attending them.
The second factor is one of de facto racial and economic segregation. The states’ continued devotion to a “home rule” system of education ensures that most economically disadvantaged and minority students will be forced to attend schools in which they are in the majority. A voucher program would give students who seek a better future, and are willing to perform the work necessary to achieve it, an opportunity to escape their failing public schools and enroll at schools wealthy students attend because of their parents’ financial advantage.
To those who oppose such an initiative there remains one simple question: What alternative do you propose? Spending more money has not proven to be the answer and has spread wide discontent among those who have seen their property taxes increase while losing state aid to “their” high-achieving school districts. Why not give a chance to those students who are willing to sacrifice for it but are otherwise forced to attend failing schools based solely upon where they live?