OPINION: Writer: School Choice No Longer a Partisan Debate

From The Newark Star-Ledger:

The issue of scholarships for urban kids to attend non-public schools is coming to a head in the legislature.  The Governor has made passage of the Opportunity Scholarship Act a priority.  That is no surprise.  What may be surprising to some is how the debate on this topic has shifted within the Democratic Party.

It used to be that anything resembling a “voucher” was taboo among Democrats.  But many have come to see school choice as a civil rights issue.  If rich white kids can go to the school that best fits them, why can’t we provide the same opportunity to poor minority kids?  The white kids that move tend to leave A- or B-grade public schools for A+ grade private schools.  The minority kids are often stuck in schools that have a far worse rating.

I remember a big city mayor telling me that the biggest problem in his school system wasn’t money, it was work rules.   Some teachers  wouldn’t do anything that was outside the four corners of their contract. They often wouldn’t get around to writing college recommendations, wouldn’t give kids extra help beyond their contractual work hours,  wouldn’t set foot in the school cafeteria, and sometimes didn’t do a very good job in the classroom.

The teachers union has been too rigid in dealing with any changes to public schools, such as contracts and expectations for teachers. Once you’ve lasted for three years, you have a job for life regardless of your performance.  This approach adversely affects the image of the many teachers who are doing a great job in difficult circumstances.   Despite these conditions, of which so many politicians are aware, if a legislator stood in the way of the union, they risked well-organized opposition in the next general election and maybe in the next primary election.

Read more: http://blog.nj.com/njv_tom_byrne/2011/01/dems_warming_to_school_choice.html