Law & Courts

Choice Advocates Seek Vouchers as Remedy for N.J. Students in Low-Performing Schools

By David J. Hoff — July 13, 2006 2 min read

In what they are calling a national test case, voucher proponents have launched an effort to use school choice as a remedy for students in 97 New Jersey schools that have failed to provide the “thorough and efficient” education guaranteed by the state’s constitution.

Eschewing the traditional solution of adding money to public schools, the Alliance for School Choice and three New Jersey-based groups filed a class action on July 13 in state superior court in Newark demanding that students in the schools receive vouchers to attend a public or private school of their choice, including religious schools. The lawsuit also would seek to revoke mandatory attendance boundaries in the state.

Clint Bolick

The choice measures would provide “immediate and meaningful relief” from the inadequate education provided to the 60,000 students attending the 97 schools cited in the lawsuit as failing, said Clint Bolick, the president and general counsel of the Alliance for School Choice, a Phoenix-based legal advocacy group.

“It immediately allows students to leave failing schools for good ones and at the same time creates pressure for accountability for public schools,” Mr. Bolick said in an interview before filing the lawsuit.

Mr. Bolick added that the New Jersey lawsuit will be a “national test case” for voucher advocates’ efforts to redirect long-running efforts by education advocates to use state constitutions’ education clauses to win increased financing for public schools.

New Solution to Old Problem

In a series of school finance lawsuits over the past 30 years, New Jersey courts have mandated remedies such as increased spending, mandatory preschool, schoolwide curricula, and state-financed school construction in the state’s poorest districts. Courts in Kansas, Kentucky, New York, and several other states also have sided with plaintiffs who have argued that the states inadequately finance their schools.

“Not a lot of those states have much to show for that massive funding effort,” Mr. Bolick contends. “In the meantime, kids continue to languish in failing schools.”

New Jersey-based groups participating in the lawsuit are the Black Ministers’ Council of New Jersey, in Orange, the Latino Leadership Alliance, in New Brunswick, and Excellent Education for Everyone, which has offices in Camden and Newark.

The 97 schools cited in the lawsuit either have at least half of their students failing to meet the state’s standards in language arts and mathematics or 75 percent of their students falling short of the standards in one of those subjects.

Those schools are in 25 districts throughout the state. The 40,000-student Newark Public Schools has 24 schools identified in the lawsuit-the most of any district.

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