Op-Ed: Let parents be their own governors

To make New Jersey better, we must be committed as a state to providing educational excellence for every child through school choice. 

If we rob our children and families of that choice, the statistics show that we may be simultaneously robbing or severely handicapping their ability to succeed and fulfill their potential. 

Since charter schools were signed into law a generation ago, they have been a game-changer for thousands of children who would otherwise be locked in failing schools with low expectations.

Over the last seven years, charter school students in New Jersey have outperformed their district counterparts on statewide assessments, particularly the percentage of students who scored proficient or advanced. Take the 2013-2014 NJASK exam, on which charter school students outperformed their district counterparts 58 percent to 45 percent in language arts and 69 percent to 56 percent in mathematics. A recent independent report from Stanford University also showed that New Jersey charter school students are making larger learning gains in both reading and math than their traditional public school peers.

No wonder thousands of families are still on waiting lists to get into a quality charter school.

As a mother of three, my children have all attended some combination of public, private and magnet schools in Monmouth County. I know firsthand that a one-size-fits-all system does not necessarily work best for every child. Instead of taking a step back and limiting parental choice, we should be embracing choice and the transformative impact it can have on our state.

Charter schools are laboratories of educational innovation, utilizing creative ways to meet the needs of students, including testing of new teaching and staffing models, implementing rigorous blended approaches and teaching concentrations in STEM and performing arts. We should focus on making the charter school system in New Jersey better and learning from its success to improve our entire education system for our kids.

We must also ease facilities and funding hurdles for charter schools by loosening unnecessary regulations and leveling the playing field for them to grow and serve more students. As New Jersey’s lieutenant governor, I chair the state’s Red Tape Review Commission, which has taken a weed-whacker to over 4,000 pages of unnecessary regulations, but more work needs to be done, especially around the regulations choking the growth and expansion of charter schools.

Embracing choice also means following through on opportunity scholarships, which allow low-income students to attend a private school of their choice. Despite the governor pushing for this program for the past seven years, our Legislature’s failure to act on this proposal shows a total lack of courage on the part of some of our elected leaders.

I believe that choice has its roots in the fundamental ethical and moral commitment to do what is in the best interest of our children. That moral commitment is not conditional. It is unconditional. It cannot be watered down by political factors or fear of loss of control.

As James Madison once said, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

As a state, our focus should be on driving innovation in education, delivering successful outcomes for children and helping all schools get stronger and better. After all, it is school choice that arms parents and students not only with the knowledge, power and opportunity to choose the educational setting to best fit their needs, but as Madison noted, to be their own governors.