ATLANTIC CITY — As the local school district’s largest union takes an active stand against a school-voucher proposal on the November ballot, a media group that supports school choice has made a YouTube video promoting the plan.
The two-part nonbinding question was proposed by City Councilmen Jesse Kurtz and Aaron Randolph and approved by City Council in August. It would provide parents school vouchers of up to $10,000 to attend other schools and offer property-tax credits for families who home school.
Vouchers are not legal in New Jersey, but Atlantic City Education Association President Marcia Genova said with the state taking a large role in Atlantic City government operations, the union is concerned the referendum, if passed, would give the state an opening to try to implement a voucher program in the city.
“We can’t just sit back and say it won’t happen,” she said of vouchers. “We are taking this seriously. We are concerned and want to make sure it fails.”
Kurtz, who was home-schooled and now home-schools his children, has said City Council is just trying to gauge public opinion on the issues and offer parents choice in their children’s education.
The primary option for the district’s estimated 7,300 students would be local Catholic schools, or paying tuition to attend a public school in another district if that district agreed to accept tuition students.
Two free charter schools enroll a few hundred students from Atlantic City, but they are located in Pleasantville and Galloway Township because they could not find a suitable location in the city.
Bob Bowdon, of Choice Media TV, said they heard about the voucher pro–posal and wanted to help support it.
In the almost five-minute video by Choice Media, several parents talk about wishing they could afford private school for their children. Kurtz talks about how the $10,000 voucher is far less than what the school district spends per student and would save taxpayers money. He calls his proposal forward-looking.
“This is about what type of city do we want to be in the future,” he says.
In his comparisons, Kurtz uses the total cost per student in Atlantic City, $26,634, which includes pension and other costs paid by the state. The budgeted operational cost for 2015-16 is $18,856 per student, which is calculated by dividing the budget by the enrollment.
Providing vouchers, at least initially, would not lower district costs dramatically and would likely increase the per-student cost in the district as students left. Large savings would not begin until there was enough enrollment loss to cut staff dramatically or close schools. The district could also lose state aid as enrollment dropped.
Genova said private schools often won’t take students with special needs and can’t provide the level of services offered in the public schools.
She said their biggest questions would be the impact on the local school district, the city budget and taxpayers.
The proposal includes no detail on where the voucher money would come from in a city that is struggling to balance its budget. The city has no authority to spend school district funds.
Genova said giving property-tax credits while the city is in such dire financial straits would just reduce the tax base even more, putting more pressure on those who are paying taxes.
The union has been distributing a flier that opposes the question and promotes all the services provided by the district schools. An information session is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 29 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Complex.