October 9, 2006 12:25PM

A not‐​at‐​all‐​Disguised Attempt to…

New Jersey officials have filed a motion for dismissal in that state’s school voucher lawsuit. The suit is seeking the creation of a voucher program for children in “failing” schools on the grounds that New Jersey has not delivered the quality education promised in its constitution.

The state attorney general’s office calls this proposed remedy a “thinly disguised attempt to have the court legislate a school voucher system.”

Nonsense. It is a not‐​at‐​all‐​disguised attempt to do that, and it should fail for that reason. A more plausible remedy that plaintiffs could ask for would be financial restitution for the wasted years of “education” to which their children have already been subjected by the state school monopoly.

If a child had been through five years of public schooling and not learned to read proficiently, the family should receive five years worth of the per‐​pupil cost of that education so that they could obtain effective educational services outside the government sector. The difference between this and the voucher program sought is that 1) it would apply only to the plaintiffs in the case (but there’s no reason they couldn’t seek class action status), and 2) it would not create an on‐​going program, just a one‐​time payment.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers might think that’s insufficient because they want to create an ongoing program right away, but their approach violates the separation of powers. It’s also unnecessary. If the plaintiffs win this suit and the remedy is the one described above, the legislature will act quickly — very, very quickly — to create some sort of new educational program to forestall similar suits all over the state.

And what sort of reform might they adopt? Well, the most popular school choice reform by far in New Jersey is the education tax credit — 74% of the public supported such programs in a recent poll.

If NJ created a large‐​scale version of Arizona’s or Pennsylvania’s schoalrship donation tax credit programs it could easily provide real public and private school choice to every low‐​income family in the state. While they’re at it, they could add a personal use tax credit for low and middle‐​income families with tax liabilities, ensuring universal access to schools of choice. And that, incidentally, is the only way the state will have any hope of living up to its constitutional promises on education.