Lesniak, Cryan, Bollwage Endorse Bush Plan For Schools

ELIZABETH—Some area politicians have endorsed a discredited Republican plot to undermine free public education to pander to a small group of parents whose children attend private schools.

Sen. Raymond Lesniak, Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, and Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage are advocating a measure that would divert money needed by public schools to help keep open private schools that have lost customers in recent years.

Lesniak has sponsored legislation in the state Senate and Cryan has introduced a companion measure in the Assembly that would reduce state revenue by as much as $360 million by giving tax breaks to corporations that fund private school tuition for certain students.

The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, calls the Lesniak plan a private school voucher.

“It is a bill that very explicitly seeks to divert public funds to subsidize private and religious schools,” Steven Baker, an NJEA spokesman, said last week. The concern, he said, “is that we have in this country a system of public education. It’s available to everybody. We need to protect that system.”

All three of the politicians attended parochial schools instead of receiving a public education.

Cryan graduated from a Catholic high school and college, Bollwage attended Blessed Sacrament in Elizabeth and graduated from St. Mary’s High School, while Lesniak went to St. Hedwig’s grammar school in Bayway.

School vouchers were used in the 1960s after school integration by some Southern states in the U.S. as a method of perpetuating segregation.

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration pushed for vouchers, as did the current Bush administration in proposals leading up to the No Child Left Behind Act.

Among the strongest voucher critics is the National Education Association, which says that they could erode educational standards, reduce funding, and ultimately close public schools.

According to a National Conference of State Legislatures study in 2006, 76 percent of the money handed out for Arizona’s voucher program has gone to children already in private schools.

Most voucher foes support parents’ right to send their children to private or religious schools but oppose the use of public funds to do so.

Arch-Republican political strategist Grover Norquist said, “We win just by debating school choice, because the alternative is to discuss the need to spend more money.”

A 2002 U.S. General Accounting Office study found no significant achievement gains for students using vouchers versus students in public schools, according to People for the American Way.

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