I’ve been tough on Lakewood this week. And so, in the interest of equal time, here is a guest post from Steven Looney, a Trustee of E3, who “supports parental choice in education and of improved public and private education in New Jersey.”
The Star Ledger, with worthy help from The Education Law Center, ran with an article last week on school busing in Lakewood that corrected some of my developing errant thoughts.
In brief, Lakewood is loaded with children of Orthodox parents who send their children, some 30,000 of them, to private yeshivas and day schools, . It is a burgeoning community of the Orthodox, and also home to a public school population of about 6,000 other children including various minorities and with other religions and beliefs. The public system is hurting in Lakewood and needs cash, while the Jewish schools are growing and receiving state-funded busing and funds for security, nursing, technology, textbooks and the like. I am reminded by The Star Ledger that this is a bad thing. Bad to divert public funds to religious schools, to Jewish schools. And that the Orthodox really are different than us, and wrongly different. For example, they require that boys and girls be segregated on the buses! How wrong! And they control the school board. Shame! And that a Jewish operator owns the bus system and profits from it. And that they don’t properly respond to calls from the press or the needs of minority parents.
I confess, I had gotten this idea that not funding religious schools was unfair to parents, made no fiscal sense and was bad for our state. Gosh, I reasoned, those parents in Lakewood were paying taxes for public schools and tuition for their religious schools too, a deal for the state and other local fisc not to educate 30,000 kids—about a $700 million plus side, $600 million more to educate at the state average and a cool tax bonus of around $100 million from the locals . And in return only $3 million for busing and a few crumbs for tech, nursing and security—which is being cut or eliminated this year too.
And quality of education? Hard to tell because standardized apples-to-apples testing is not a good thing… but maybe the Orthodox schools stack up ok on that, and on a dollars for performance basis. Maybe even better. And, I thought, are those religious schools cranking out criminals and addicts and the unemployed? Or generally ok, ethical citizens who happen to go to Temple a lot? I could bet that they do a bit better on the citizen deal. I had even started to muse that fairly funding and nurturing all all sorts of religious groups and their schools and social service efforts could work pretty well for everyone.
Crazy me. Its New Jersey. The Education Law Center and its friends have the real religion here. Stay the course! These Lakewood folks are against public education; cleverly chiseling away at the system. Plus they are really different, truly odd. Worship public education; stay pure and secular and fund it! Fund that Lakewood public district and all others fairly and fully and you will see. Just a bit more, $3 million here and a few hundred million there and we are on our way. And if we squeeze out the busing and the nursing and the security here, we can make a point, even a small one is good, and marginalize this heresy with an exclamation point.
On to the Catholics….?