Rally in Morris calls for ‘school choice’
Activists urge ideas for public funding of private education
Taking part in a panel discussion on school choice, Israel Teitelbaum, left, calls for a campaign to support vouchers for students in Washington, DC, schools.
February 6, 2014
About 45 people gathered in Morris Township in support of various plans to allow public funding of private schools, including day schools and yeshivot.
The Jan. 29 event at the Frelinghuysen Arboretum was one of the final events in a weeklong campaign for “school choice” that organizers said included 5,500 events across the country.
Attendees heard proposals and pledged support for school vouchers and other strategies to enable parents to use public funds or to ease their tax bill in order to pay for alternatives to public schools.
Participants at the Morris Township event represented a spectrum of political and educational priorities, from parochial school parents to home schoolers to Tea Party supporters.
Israel Teitelbaum of Morristown, secretary of the Alliance for Free Choice in Education, served as the main organizer of the event.
He said the lone elected official present, NJ State Assemblyman Anthony Bucco (R-Dist. 25), was honored at the event because of legislation he has put forward that would give a voucher to any child to attend private school.
Bucco, in turn, credited Teitelbaum with inspiring him to take up the cause. “He came into my office and explained what the school choice movement was all about,” he said.
The program, “Parental Choice in Education: The Civil Rights Issue of Our Time,” was sponsored by the NJ Family Policy Council, NJ Tax Payers’ Association, Alliance for Free Choice in Education, Americans for Prosperity-NJ, Parental Rights-NJ, Veritas Conservative Alliance, Morris Patriots, and 2014 Unity.
Bucco noted that the voucher concept has been introduced in several states, including Wisconsin, Florida, and Indiana. “This is not new, and it has been proven to work,” he said. “The problem in New Jersey is getting the right people to buy into it.”
Three other aspiring political figures took part, all Republicans, though the speakers spoke of a bipartisan approach, “fighting for liberty,” and against oppressive and entrenched positions in both parties.
Moderator Dr. Alieta Eck, who ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate last year, now plans to run for Congress in the 12th congressional district. “School choice should be a matter for students and teachers, just as health care should be a matter for patients and their doctors, not the government,” said Eck, who runs a free clinic in Somerset.
Also attending were West Orange businessman Brian Goldberg, who plans to run against Sen. Cory Booker for the U.S. Senate in November, and David Larsen of Tewksbury, who intends to challenge Rep. Leonard Lance in the District Seven Republican primary
In one panel discussion, Daryn Iwicki, president of Americans for Prosperity-NJ, said that “the money should follow the child.”
He insisted that those in lower-income communities — like Camden and Paterson — can benefit just as much, or more, than children in wealthier areas, and that providing vouchers wouldn’t drain necessary funding from public schools. “Competition breeds better schools and better teachers,” he said.
Reporter's Notebook: Reason and bitterness at school choice gathering
REPORTING ON THE School Choice event in Morris Township on Jan. 29, listening intently and trying to hear objectively, I found myself swayed by the utterly reasonable tone of some speakers, and rocked back on my heels by the “us vs. them” bitterness voiced by others.
In the end, it felt inadequate to quote them all in the same color ink. I’d have liked at least three options:
Green — for what might be accepted as fact: for example, that public schooling in many areas is priced at around $29,000 per child, and that these voucher champions are calling for the provision of $15,000 in order to subsidize tuition at a school of their choice.
Yellow — for debatable assertions: for example, that competition makes everything better, and that spending on public schools can be cut — by reducing the number of students going to them — without reducing their quality.
Red — for the more astounding comments, like one audience member’s fierce proclamation that the whole public school system is a conspiracy. “You have to look at the bigger picture,” he insisted, declaring that for the past 50 or 60 years, American children have deliberately been rendered “dumb and brain-dead” as a way to destroy society. I assumed I wasn’t alone in cringing at his view. However, more than one person called out, “Hear, hear.”
Clearly, for all the calls for solidarity and to present a voting bloc strong enough to pass “school choice,” the audience members had a range of different priorities. And in the end, I wasn’t all that sure of my own.
My son recently graduated from a public high school that — despite some great staff members — we came to see as a disastrous fit for him. My husband and I are champions of public schooling, and we valued very highly the broad mix of kids he got to know, but if we’d had a $15,000 voucher of the kind espoused by the school choice movement, we might have taken that money and sent him elsewhere.
Jewish day school proponents also see vouchers and other ideas — including special tax deductions for scholarships to private schools — as a way to ease the “double jeopardy” of high taxes and burdensome tuition bills. While many civil libertarians and champions of the public schools — including teachers’ unions — say such schemes infringe on the separation of church and state, proponents insist that they can be implemented without tearing up the Constitution.
But it remains to be seen how comfortable a fit it can be among, say, middle-class parents who want a good, affordable Jewish education for their children, frustrated reformers of failing inner-city schools, and the Tea Party activists who express distrust for the very idea of public schooling.
— ELAINE DURBACH