April 28, 2024

Mark Weber: No Matter What You Call Them, Private School Vouchers Are Bad for New Jersey

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Mark Weber is a music teacher and expert on school finance. In this piece from New Jersey Policy Perspective, he explains why the proposal to create school vouchers in New Jersey is a bad idea.

New Jersey’s public schools are among the strongest in the nation, a direct result of robust state funding that supports districts and students in every corner of the state. This investment in public schools is now threatened by a sweeping new bill that would establish the first-ever school voucher program in New Jersey, providing tens of millions of dollars in public funds to students attending private schools.[1]

The bill text is careful not to include the word “voucher,” a tactic recommended by anti-public school organizations like the Cato Institute.[2] Instead, the bill uses coded terms like “scholarships” and “tax credits,” but the ultimate outcomes remain the same. With an annual cost of $37.5 million, this proposal would funnel scarce public dollars to unaccountable private schools, harming students, taxpayers, and the future of public education in New Jersey.

New Jersey Cannot Afford School Vouchers, “Tax Credits,” or “Scholarships”

The proposed bill would grant tax credits to corporate and individual taxpayers who make contributions to “student support organizations.” After collecting their administrative fees, these groups would redistribute the funds to private school families. Proponents argue this is different than private school vouchers, which give state funds directly to parents or schools. But that’s a distinction without a difference.

Every public dollar in tax credits for private school scholarships is a dollar that has to be made up somewhere else, either in cuts to public programs or in higher taxes.[3] Given the state’s current fiscal situation, the last thing New Jersey needs right now is a multi-million-dollar giveaway to private schools.

In other states, wealthy individuals and businesses have used similar tax credit schemes to reduce their tax liability by more than the amount of their donation, essentially making money on private school vouchers.[4] The New Jersey bill, as proposed, would create incentives to do the same.

It’s worth noting that in other states, voucher programs started small, but grew enormously in a short time. Arizona’s voucher program, for example, totaled $57 million in 2012 and ballooned to $218 million by 2022.[5] It’s telling that the original version of the New Jersey bill set the total cost at $250 million; if it passes, it wouldn’t at all be surprising to see the bill reach this extremely high cost in the near future.

Most Funding Would Benefit Those Already Enrolled in Private School

The bill sets the income threshold for a family of five at $176,000 — nearly twice the median household income[6] — meaning families that can afford private schools on their own will now take money from the rest of the state’s taxpayers to subsidize their children’s private school education.[7]

Some argue voucher programs do not cost states school funding because the state doesn’t have to pay to educate students who would otherwise attend public school. This logic fails, however, up against the fact that large numbers of private school students wouldn’t attend public school under any circumstances. More than half of New Jersey’s private schools students, for example, attend religious schools; it is reasonable to assume many of their parents would always choose a religious education for them, no matter the availability of private school vouchers.[8]

Read the full post for the rest of the problems with this proposal.

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