Churchgoers Text their Support for School Choice

More than a dozen Newark churches yesterday take part in unique lobbying campaign

Supporters of a proposed law that would provide private-school scholarships for students in underperforming school districts took part in an “American Idol”-style text vote designed to pressure lawmakers to take action on the controversial legislation.

Yesterday’s text campaign was promoted by clergy members during Sunday services in nearly 20 Essex County churches, including congregations in East Orange and Montclair. The majority of the churches taking part yesterday are located in Newark.

“It’s a way to tell legislators your people really want this,” Amy Simon, a spokeswoman for E3, Excellent Education for Everyone, a New Brunswick-based reform group, said yesterday. “It’s been eight years.”

The legislation, the Opportunity Scholarship Act, would allow private businesses to pay a portion of their state taxes into a scholarship fund that could be used by students in a handful of districts across New Jersey, including Newark, if they attend schools plagued by low graduation rates and test scores.

The act as it it now written would authorize the introduction of the scholarships on a trial basis, with funding for only 20,000 students statewide. Students would get up to $9,000 in scholarship money to attend private elementary schools and up to $16,000 to attend high school.

Similar scholarship programs have been rolled out in struggling districts elsewhere in the nation, including Cleveland and Milwaukee.

Opponents of the law say that the scholarships would deprive failing schools of even more funding and may violate the principle of the separation of church and state, since the scholarships could be used at religious schools. But supporters say the scholarships would provide vital help for poor, inner-city youth who  are being deprived of a decent education.
New Jersey’s OSA has been discussed by lawmakers for years but has yet to be voted on, as the proposed legislation has been repeatedly reworked at the behest of Democrats in the Legislature. One of the main purposes of yesterday’s campaign, Simon said, was to get the Opportunity Scholarship Act into committee, the first step towards a full vote.

Pastor Lance Mann, of First Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Newark, said yesterday’s vote at his church “went great.”

“Our church was very receptive to the issue,” Mann said, adding that “More and more of them will express their displeasure with the school system and their desire to fix it.”

“Our kids are in trouble and we need to rescue them,” he said .

More text campaigns in favor of the OSA are scheduled for the coming weeks.

DONALD NADEAU May 07, 2012 at 09:27 PM
Wilhelmina Holder May 08, 2012 at 12:37 PM
Our children are in trouble if the community decides to throw away children by not supporting the needs of ALL children and hand-picking a few who should be saved. We need the churches to do the courageous thing and support ALL CHILDREN by getting to the root of the problem and not climbing onto "dangling branches". School reform should reflect the needs of the ENTIRE community. Wilhelmina, a Christian who challenges the churches to get onboard and get involved in the lowest-performing schools by direct actions (ensuring adequate resources, helping to build the parent organizations (PTA's/PTO's), ensuring safe and nurturing learning environments), not words. VOTE FOR ALL CHILDREN
Antoinette Richardson May 11, 2012 at 03:59 AM
I'm with Wilhelmina. I personally think it's a damn shame that more churches aren't fighting for EQUITY IN EDUCATION: why aren't they demanding that all children receive the resources that they need to reach their academic potential and become good positive contributing citizens? What has become of us that we are content with so called solutions that address the needs of a portion of the students, and drain resources from the most vulnerable students? Guess what? If my child is well educated, and my neighbor's child isn't, NOBODY IS SAFE, NOBODY IS SAVED FROM VIOLENCE AND DESPERATION. NOBODY LIVES IN COMFORT AND SECURITY. I don't care where people send their children to school, but we all need to join together and focus on restoring resources to our public schools.


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