MONDAY, MARCH 5, 2012
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GOVERNOR Christie is feeling pretty good about school reform. First, he succeeded in demonizing teacher unions, then he got reasonable people to buy into his school voucher program. Now he has made his nationwide pitch on "Morning Joe," the popular MSNBC show that last Friday aired live from Fort Lee High School and devoted much attention to the sort of reforms Christie envisions for New Jersey.
We readily support some of the governor's ideas. He is right, for example, in seeking a more streamlined and more efficient approach to teacher tenure. For too long, too many ineffective teachers in New Jersey have been allowed to linger on, year after year, in failing classrooms.
But we are troubled by the governor's voucher plan, known as the Opportunity Scholarship Act, which would give companies tax credits to pay private or parochial school tuition for students in a handful of pilot districts. Leaders of the teachers' unions, according to the governor, "have made it very clear to me and to the Legislature that it is an unacceptable alternative that they will fight every way they can — all vouchers," Christie said.
First, just because the idea is opposed by teachers' unions — the governor's sworn enemies, politically — doesn't make it good education policy. The voucher plan may sound promising on the surface, but it's flawed.
We are disturbed by the thought of tax dollars going to pay for a child's private education. In the case of those with religious affiliation, we see a violation of the separation of church and state. Finally, it stands to reason that money taken from state education coffers will, in one way or another, hurt public schools.
We might not have all the answers concerning elementary and secondary education, but we do know that the problems are widespread and entrenched, and too complex for sound bites. The war of words between the governor and the unions is counterproductive, a sideshow that must end if we are ever to see any constructive dialogue on the matter of improving public schools.