The greatest barrier standing in the way of passage of universal school-choice legislation, which is solidly based on the foundation of liberty and free enterprise, is the fact that universal school choice is “politically impossible.” Despite the fact that Milton Friedman’s plan empowering parents to send their children to the school of their choice is the only practical way to restore accountability to the system, it remains politically impossible to achieve in New Jersey.
Factually, the evidence confirming this is overwhelming. Since 1990, when the good people of Milwaukee were the first in America to achieve a limited school-choice program, after winning a 10-year political battle, New Jerseyans have tried and failed to achieve even a tiny “pilot program.” For the past two decades both Democrats and Republicans have been working on one, and despite bipartisan support, it was never allowed to come to the floor of the State Legislature for debate or vote.
Those now holding the keys to New Jersey government will never surrender their control of education, as this would spell political suicide. The question we all need to ask ourselves is: Are we willing to allow our children and families to be deprived of our civil and human right to our own destiny? If the answer is no, we need to ask ourselves: How can we change the political reality?
History has proven, time and again, that we all have the potential to change the political reality. It requires commitment, faith and action. No one can do it alone. But we all can accomplish this together when each of us lends a hand to the task.
Commitment is called for even when help appears to be impossible. Rescuers race daily, and do all they can to save lives, without regard to whether or not they believe it possible. Throughout the ages our forebears fought for liberty, emancipation, women’s suffrage and civil rights under “impossible” conditions. Yet they persevered and succeeded.
Faith is another quality that compels us to take action on behalf of liberty and justice, whether or not we see victory over the horizon. Trust in our Creator is reason enough to take the action needed to create the suitable vessel for His boundless blessings.
Action is most critical, without which the impossible becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The only way to change the political reality is by electing representatives who truly represent our needs and those of our children. This requires our votes and those of everyone within our circle of influence. It requires communication, influence and financial support.
Orthodox Jews residing in New York and New Jersey are strategically clustered to wield maximum political clout, as evidenced by the 2006 battle for a $500 child educational credit for all K-12 students, including those in religious schools. Republican Governor George Pataki favored them, while Democratic Speaker Sheldon Silver opposed. All political pundits then predicted that nothing would come of it, as Speaker Silver led the majority.
My dear brother, Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum, z”l, then sent an urgent letter, fax and email to some 500 rabbis and school administrators throughout New York State urging everyone to call their local representatives and Speaker Silver to urge support of the bill. One day later, the Orthodox Union followed with a similar message. Five days later Speaker Silver issued a press release announcing his own child credit plan of $500 per child, but it would not be tied to education. Silver expanded the bill from $400 million to $600 to include all children.
While a long budget stand-off finally resulted in a compromise — a child credit totaling only $400 million — this clearly demonstrates how an active, unified minority can wield its political muscle. Similar actions directed on behalf of a universal voucher program to empower all parents to send their children to the school of their choice, without having to pay twice for education, will yield results.
New Jersey is one step ahead of New York. As a result of the efforts of a small group of Morristown activists, Trenton now has two bills calling for school vouchers. The group is also working closely with two candidates for the State Assembly from the 36th Legislative Districts — Aharon Cohn and Sam Krause — who are running on the promise to serve as the first Democratic legislators in all New Jersey in support of universal school choice. This is a critical breakthrough required for passage of the bills, as a Republican minority cannot pass them without some Democratic support.
The influential Passaic Orthodox Jewish community, which comprises a significant portion of the district, now has the incredible opportunity to blaze a trail to equal educational opportunity for every child. They deserve the support of us all, as their win is our win.
Please, for the sake of our children, grandchildren and all society, do all that you can to empower parents to send their children to the school of their choice now, while we have a window of opportunity open before us.
Israel Teitelbaum is cofounder and secretary of Alliance for Free Choice in Education. He can be reached at Israel@SchoolChoiceNJ.org.