Schooling, Not Politics, Is the Path to Prosperity



Nine years ago in April, I was elected to the Princeton Regional School Board.I had an ambitious agenda: raising the standard for high school graduation from an 11th to a 12th grade level; changing the dropout age from 16 to 18; closing the achievement gap by providing poor children with books in their homes; reducing traffic accidents and fatalities by requiring that the physics of car crashes be taught in the ninth or tenth grades, before students get their drivers licenses; and reducing taxes by letting middle and high school students use public buses instead of school buses where possible.


That August, the school board unanimously passed a resolution to the delegate assembly of the New Jersey School Boards Association recommending the purchase of books for poor students. Studies show that familiarity with letters and numbers is an essential prerequisite for success in school.Poor children enter school already at a disadvantage compared to their wealthier peers who have larger vocabularies and are already familiar with numbers and letters.Furthermore, providing poor students with books early held the promise of vastly reducing subsequent expenditures on special education, one of the biggest items in any school districtís budget.


The New Jersey School Boards Association, while freely admitting that giving books to poor children was an excellent education idea, opposed the resolution because the suggested financing mechanism violated its policy against dedicated taxes, even though the Association itself is funded with dedicated taxes.The New Jersey School Boards Association, which is supposed to lobby for education, allowed its position on taxes to override its position on education.


Now, nine years later, under very different economic circumstances, almost all of the borrowed stimulus money coming into New Jersey for its schools is going to Title I and special education students.Had the School Boards Association supported our resolution nine years ago, chances are the achievement gap would be significantly smaller and this borrowed money could have been spent on retooling schools for the future, like buying laptops for high school students, instead of remedying the defects of the past. The School Boards Association, by putting its policy on taxes, about which it has no special knowledge, ahead of its policy on education, about which its elected members know a lot, has ended up costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.


Instead of saving millions on bus service, I had to fight tooth and nail for 1,200 feet of sidewalk.Without the sidewalk, the taxpayers would have been required to forever provide bus service to students who otherwise could walk to the elementary school, middle school and high school in fifteen minutes or less.Lack of exercise is a contributing cause of obesity and another life style addition to rising health care costs. Yet, the municipal council cared more about the complaints and votes of a dozen residents than it did about the taxes of the 2,000 homeowners in the borough.


In short, my nine years on the Princeton Regional School Board, has been a disappointment and frustrating experience.


The problem is that politics in the state legislature trumps teaching at every point.How else could an elected representative spend nine years on a school board and be powerless to influence the expenditure of the taxes paid by the voters who elected him or her?


Teachers and administrators unions have used their disciplined and disproportionate voting power in primary elections to exact from the legislature special employment and pension benefits for themselves.Simultaneously, they have used that same power to prevent laws requiring high standards and pupil achievement.


Governments are not like private businesses.As long as anyone is making money, tax revenues increase.It is only when the private economy as a whole is contracting that government revenues fall.Formerly rising revenues of the government, combined with fiscal shenanigans of the governors and legislatures, were used to raise education expenditures in exchange for the professional staff keeping silent about its glaring failures.In the schools, everything is always hunky dory or improving; while the staff licensing laws and mandated curricula, touted as mandatory quality control and accountability guarantees, have effectively made innovation illegal.


Not only did I not get the graduation standards raised, but even in Princeton students are not taught how to read timetables.The automobile culture and anti-public transit bias is part of the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards.


The United States is following Soviet Union down the path to economic collapse.Massive economic subsidies are going, not to where they are most needed economically, but to where they will produce the most campaign contributions and votes for the two party system.The millions of dollars of federal education stimulus money should have been spent on supplying every high school student with a laptop.


In exchange for the $20 billion a year that taxpayers give to the schools in New Jersey, the least they can expect is that the law require every child to graduate and be able to read and do math on a 12th grade level.Until this happens, the economy can not return to robust growth. And this is not an academic argument.State pension funds have only about 60% of the funds necessary to pay promised benefits.Only 60% of the school aged children are graduating from high school with a 12th grade education. Do the math.