Jim Goodness For Release :
(973) 202-2317 (Cell)
December 16, 2008
Statement by James Goodness, Director of Communications, Archdiocese of Newark, on NJEA School Choice Advertorial
For Release :
On December 14, 2008, an advertorial - a paid advertisement that expresses an opinion on a current events topic -- paid for by the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) appeared in numerous newspapers in the state. The advertorial presented the group's opinion on the subjects of school choice and educational reform. The author, NJEA President Joyce Powell, claimed that advocates of reform are trying to both gut the state's public school system and eliminate tenure in favor of “patronage positions to be filled at the whim of administration and politicians.” The author used a very broad brush to spread her words around, but she succeeded only in painting herself into a corner.
Like the other Catholic dioceses in New Jersey and a broad coalition of civil rights, faith-based and parent organizations throughout the state, the Archdiocese of Newark is a proponent of school choice. We make no apologies for this stance. None of the Catholic dioceses has taken a position on eliminating tenure. However, the author's statement wrongly seeks to place in the minds of readers of the newspapers where the group purchased this ad the idea that we do oppose tenure. In doing so, the author is not engaging in education - her chosen profession - but rather in propaganda and innuendo. Nor does the legislation that we support address the issue of tenure.
Proponents of school choice believe that education is a partnership involving parents and educators deciding together what to teach and about how best to provide that educational opportunity for the child. Education is not a fiat of a bureaucracy and its special interests. In addition to adhering to the State of New Jersey curriculum guidelines on all subjects, in our Catholic schools we believe that the interweaving of faith and values education with the State curricula offers a significantly enhanced education. The parents of some 143,000 children throughout New Jersey agree.
The advertorial hauls out the boogeyman claim that school choice, in the form of a limited scholarship program funded by corporate tax credits - not vouchers, and the author would have readers believe -- will gut the public school system. The State of New Jersey educates in its public schools some 1.3 million children, at an average per-student cost to the taxpayers of the state of some $18,500 annually. In the Abbott districts, to which the author refers in the advertorial, the actual average cost of education is significantly higher, with Newark recently reporting $20,482 per student.
Under the proposed scholarship program, which seeks to provide an educational alternative for some 20,000 of those students in eight specific districts over a five-year period, the available scholarship will be $6,000 - equal to the average cost of educating a child in a Catholic or urban private elementary school in New Jersey. The parent can use the scholarship to fund an alternative education in any public or nonpublic school.
Rather than actually cost the taxpayers and the Treasury of the State of New Jersey money, this kind of small reform will actually save the State some $72 million over the life of the program, or $3,600 for each child whose parents take advantage of the opportunity.
Do the math. Clearly the program does indeed provide both school reform and fiscal reform in a state badly in need of financial relief.
Nor do the savings to the state and local communities end here. With fewer children in an already overburdened system, less funding will be required for construction of new schools. Those students whose parents choose to have them remain in public schools will see classes that are smaller. This is something the author and her organization want, isn't it? And it can be achieved quickly and inexpensively.
The Archdiocese of Newark also believes in strong public schools. The 1.3 million parishioners of the Archdiocese whose tax dollars provide the fuel for public schools in the state deserve the best possible public school system. But it should not be the only option available, particularly in the most troubled districts where public schools have failed so dramatically. We cannot accept the mantra of the author and her organization that merely paraphrases the Henry Ford statement: “Give them any education they want, so long as it's public education.”
The author clearly fears reform, clinging tenaciously to tired rhetoric and settling for failure when students most in need deserve a quality education. While the scholarship program supported by the Archdiocese and others will result in significant savings to taxpayers, the author's instance on maintaining the status quo will come at an enormous cost to children and our communities. Indeed, the real cost of her beleaguered and increasingly untenable anti-reform position is not that it will “raid the state treasure,” but that it will rob students of their future, locking them into failed schools, perpetuating disadvantage and unjustly depriving them of opportunity and the kind of education every child deserves.