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Support Reforms to Make Education Better for Students and Taxpayers!
An Open Letter to the New Jersey State Legislature
January 20, 2011
On behalf of the National Taxpayers Union’s more than 10,000 members in New Jersey, I urge you to support reforms that would reduce the cost and improve the quality of K-12 and higher education throughout the state.
There is no question that New Jersey faces serious challenges right now. Enormous budget deficits, underfunded pension liabilities, and a slow economy are threatening the state’s ability to provide core services, including education. Other factors, such as reckless overspending and ineffective program management, have chronically afflicted many of those services as well. When the education system fails to function properly, New Jersey’s children lack the knowledge and skills necessary to contribute to the well-being of their communities and compete in the global economy. As a result, we see higher costs imposed on society and ultimately the taxpayers who foot the bill for many remedial efforts.
Although education is of central importance to civic life, it is also a very costly enterprise for the state and its performance has been mixed. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, New Jersey spent $16,491 per pupil at the K-12 levels in 2008, the second-highest amount in the nation. Yet, student test scores continue to languish. On recent achievement exams, students scored below last year’s language arts results. Although there were some improvements in math, scores for 7th and 8th graders declined. Furthermore, graduation exam results remained flat for the ninth straight year. On top of that, New Jersey ranks last among the states in the number of public baccalaureate seats it provides per high school graduate, which means the state educates fewer students in four-year public colleges and universities than similar-sized states do. More spending and government control have not led to vast improvements for public education in New Jersey; it is imperative that elected officials try something different. Fortunately, there is reason for hope because several reform proposals for K-12 and higher education have been introduced in the Legislature.
S. 1872, the Opportunity Scholarship Act, would create a corporate tax credit to fund a pilot scholarship program in 13 repetitively failing school districts. Similar to successful initiatives underway in Pennsylvania and Florida, S. 1872 would enable a child in a low-income family to attend a private school or a non-district public school. If enacted, S. 1872 will empower parents to become more conscious of their investment and create powerful incentives for schools to provide the best possible value for students. The Senate’s Economic Growth Committee has already favorably reported S. 1872.
Several bills in the Governor’s “tool kit” would also help address some of the exorbitant costs of higher education that make it unaffordable for students. S. 2026 would exempt state college and university employees from the state’s Civil Service. By doing so, college and university administrators would have greater flexibility over the size of their workforces and employee salaries, which would help slow the nearly relentless rise in tuition. Similar to the recently approved cap on arbitration awards, S. 2027 would bring fact-finder awards by the Public Employment Relations Commission under control, thereby contributing to cost containment as well. Additionally, S. 2172 would modernize tenure rules in higher education institutions by better rewarding instructors for merit and performance. These bills await action by the Senate.
New Jersey simply cannot afford to spend more money on an education system that fails to deliver results. A new approach is necessary: we must work to build a more solid foundation for education that stresses increased accountability, fiscal discipline, greater choice, and more parental guidance. Our members therefore encourage you to enact these reform bills quickly.