Last Friday Governor Christie signed a "school choice" bill that gives (some) parents the ability to send their children to schools outside their home districts. One provision of the bill would allow 10 percent of a district's students to attend another school in the state. The home school district would be required to transport these students to schools located at least two miles but not more than 20 miles from their homes.
Although the bill creates a permanent Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, it is not a real school choice measure in any meaningful way. First, the bill only allows 10 percent of students in a school district to enroll in other schools, but only if the other schools have "excess capacity." In other words, even if parents want to send their school out of the district, the desired schools may not be able to accept these children because there are no seats available for them in the schools.
Second, if more than 10 percent of parents want their children to opt of their school districts, then what? Where is the "school choice" if the state does not allow more than the statutory limit of 10 percent of students to enroll out of the district?
There cannot be real school choice as long as the government has in effect an education monopoly. For example, suppose there was a government shoe monopoly, because we as a society could not leave the manufacture and distribution of shoes to the free market. Shoes are too important to leave to the free market, the argument would undoubtedly be expressed by the big government types. As a society we must not allow shoes to be provided in the free market, because the poor inner city kids — God forbid — would go barefoot! How will they get good quality shoes if only the kids in the suburbs can afford higher quality shoes because their parents have higher incomes than families in the state's cities?
In its infinite wisdom, the government makes sure all kids have shoes at reasonable prices because it now manufactures and distribute shoes to all youngsters. However, because their parents can afford to buy shoes in the free market, some students get more choices than they have in the government shoe store. But even though suburban and urban parents are using their income to pay for their kids shoe needs, they still have to pay taxes to support the government shoe industry in other communities as well as their local shoe company. In other words, parents who exercise shoe choice for their kids still have to subsidize the shoe needs of other children. And childless couples and singles have to subsidize all children who receive "free government shoes" with their local shoe taxes and state income taxes.
Substitute education, healthcare, food, housing, etc., for shoes, and you arrive at the current welfare state: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.
Real school choice requires ending the public school monopoly. School property taxes would have to be abolished and the income tax would have to be eliminated. Parents throughout the state would then have to decide how to use their income to provide for their children's education. If local schools run by teachers, parents and administrators provide a quality education for all children no matter where they live, they should be able to do so. We do not need another fatuous law called "school choice," which is in reality a gimmick to maintain the public school monopoly.
If Governor Christie, legislators and other self proclaimed advocates of school choice would be intellectually honest, they would end the public school monopoly and allow real school choice to flourish in the State of New Jersey.
Murray Sabrin is professor of finance at Ramapo College. He was the Libertarian Party nominee for governor in 1997 and a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2000 and 2008. Check www.MurraySabrin.com for more of his writings.