OPINION: Head of NJ Reform Group Says School Choice Can't Wait

From Norm Alworth writing in The Newark Star-Ledger:

If you came upon a foundering boat full of children, would you stop to debate whether you could save all of the children or just some, argue whether it was a parochial or private boat, debate shipbuilding efficiency in the decades ahead, or delay your attempts to save those young lives while waiting for consensus on shore?

The current delay of the Opportunity Scholarship Act pending in Trenton is exactly that, a Swiftian argument over the minutiae of a bill designed to save the hopes, dreams and lives of our inner-city children — not after a decade of bureaucratic system tweaking, but now. An interview last week with Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver served to illustrate the frustrating morass of confusion and political gamesmanship over what is essentially a tiny pilot program for a few of our worst school districts. In the recent words of another Essex County leader, the Rev. Reginald Jackson: “These legislators decry increasing violence, gangs and unemployment and say we have to do something about it, and then when they have a chance to take even a small step, which the OSA is, they don’t act.”

In just a few months, thousands of New Jersey children will step onto a bus for the first time, beginning their kindergarten or first-grade experience in our public education system. In many of our inner-city districts, that step will herald the beginning of a forced march through a failed monopoly — a path of doom from which their parents are powerless to exit.

One can debate whether 47 or 54 percent of them will emerge without the tools to prepare them for higher education, but whatever it is, the number is more than a compassionate society should bear. The tragedy of this reality is that it targets our most vulnerable fellow citizens — the inner-city families without the resources to move out of their school district or choose a private or charter school more suited to their child’s educational needs.

Parental school choice is the single biggest civil rights issue of our time, but even a tiny step such as the OSA is being winnowed down to fewer than a dozen of New Jersey’s 591 school districts, with critics looking to lower that number even further.

Read more here: http://blog.nj.com/njv_guest_blog/2011/07/nj_education_reform_cannot_wai.html