New Jersey's 21st Legislative District

Senator Tom Kean, Jr.

Senator Tom Kean

Editorial: Let’s Offer Families School Choice

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The following editorial by Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean was published in the Star-Ledger on Tuesday, January 29, 2013:

As parents, we would do anything for our children in their time of need, no matter what illness, injury, trouble or danger they face.

Unfortunately, we, as a state, do little when it comes to the chronic concerns of their education. In cities and towns across New Jersey — usually the poorest and most violent — kids attend schools in which they are not learning. Year in and year out, the children in these schools are denied the knowledge and life skills necessary for future success.

In most of these schools, we’ve been waiting decades for change. As a result, we have allowed a generation of young adults to be ill-equipped when they enter college or the workforce.

Enough. Kids are kids for only so long. There is no turning back the clock once they reach adulthood and find themselves without the skills and knowledge needed to earn a good living and contribute to society.

This week is National School Choice Week, and it’s a time all New Jerseyans should reflect on the fact that, in a state with the best public schools in America, there are still a select few troubled communities where children are being made to wait for the same quality education their peers elsewhere receive.

They will be waiting, in all likelihood, until they graduate from high school with a diploma that means little more than having spent 12 years in a classroom. That is if they graduate at all — a less than 50-50 proposition in places such as Newark and Camden. Meanwhile, these children could travel a few miles in any direction to some of the best public and private schools in America.

We can do more than just hope things turn around in time to save them.

I am proud to once again be the prime sponsor of the New Jersey Opportunity Scholarship Act. This bipartisan legislation offers privately funded scholarships to children of limited means in select, chronically failing districts so that they can attend a different, high-performing public school. If distance or other considerations mean that a local, well-performing private school is a better option for that family, the law would allow them to enroll in that school instead.

Rather than putting the children of cities such as Asbury Park and Camden and Newark at a lifetime disadvantage by forcing them to remain in schools that are a long way from offering an adequate education to students, the Opportunity Scholarship Act puts them immediately in an environment where they can succeed.

Opportunity scholarships are not an abandonment of public education. We will continue to invest in any and all means of improving chronically failing school districts so that they, too, can offer the children in their communities a quality education. But until that day comes, we must take extraordinary measures to ensure another generation of children are not shuffled through a school system that isn’t meeting their needs.

We owe it to these kids to offer a solution that immediately improves their learning environment. It is an imperative — just as we would throw ourselves in harm’s way to save the life of our son or daughter — to act now and secure their chance at a productive, prosperous future.

Let us not ask another child to wait any longer for the opportunity that in America is their birthright.

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