As I said in Part 1 of this two-part series, the state of education in America has steadily declined from a myriad of causes. Since this is a multi-faceted problem, logically the solution should be multi-faceted as well. Part 1 focused on what citizens can do outside of government to remedy this deteriorating situation. This section will analyze proposed school choice legislation in New Jersey in hopes that it will serve as a model for other states.
I acknowledge the many cultural indices that have negatively impacted schools – and there are many. However, I will not address them in this two-part series. I believe that members of the clergy should address those remedies. The reason: they are in large part the product of spiritual changes that affect the family structure and the culture.
Education reform legislation
The legislation being discussed was proposed by New Jersey State Senators Anthony R. Bucco and Steven Oroho, No. 504, and is commonly referred to as “The New Jersey Parental Rights Program Act.” While their effort is admirable, it has flaws that will discourage religiously based nonpublic schools from participating. Many may object to tax dollars going to religiously based schools. But none can deny that these schools make up a large majority of the nonpublic schools.
(Incidentally: in Everson v. Board of Education (1947) the NJ courts found that tax money can be used to reimburse transportation costs for students that go to religiously based private schools. The plaintiff appealed to the US Supreme Court, who did not overturn the NJ ruling. SCOTUS found that the distribution of funds was constitutional because the reimbursements were available to all students, regardless of religion, and because the payments went to parents and not to any religious institution.)
Frankly, the libertarian in me acknowledges that parents have the right to decide which schools are best for their children – religiously-based, government-run, or otherwise. It should be noted that for the past century most have relied on the government to make those decisions for them – with disastrous results. This is a classic case of good government being government that stays out of your way.
Therefore, I suggest changes that I believe will impact the willingness of nonpublic schools to participate resulting in a greater latitude of choice for our citizens. With some modification, “The New Jersey Parental Rights Program Act”can serve as a model. It should also be noted that religiously based schools include all types of religions. It is not possible to protect the religious liberty of any if we do not protect the religious liberty of all.
The points in the proposed legislation under discussion have a yellow highlight in the linked PDF file.
A stack of school books with an apple on top.
Section 5. a. (2) of “The New Jersey Parental Rights Program Act” as written requires that participating schools do not discriminate in admissions on the basis of race, color, national origin, or religion. Since we understand and appreciate that many nonpublic schools are religiously based, our non-discrimination clause would omit “religion”. We recognize that nonpublic schools have the right to determine the faith of their student body based on their policies and/or By Laws and this right to worship as they see fit should not be infringed upon by the State. It is imperative to note, once again, that the religious choice is being made by the parents and not the government. This distinction makes it clear that this option is not a violation of our First Amendment and does not assault the wall of separation between church and state.
Section 5. b. deals with financial information and reports that participating schools are to make available to the State. The State’s objectives are reasonable in these requirements; however, nonpublic schools (especially those that are federally registered as 501(C)3s) are already over-burdened with financial reports and regulations. Therefore, I believe that school choice legislation should place no additional financial reporting burdens on nonpublic schools that are registered as 501(c)3s other than to produce certifiable records regarding the school’s tuition.
Sections 7 and 8 of “The New Jersey Parental Rights Program Act” shall be replaced with the following:
The department will not require or procure any additional evaluations of any nonpublic school that is accredited by one of the following accrediting agenciesiii:
This list represents the currently operating accreditation agencies. You should update this periodically as more agencies form (or merge, as when SAIS absorbed the old Mid-South Association of Independent Schools).