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Atlantic City Gambles on School Choice

August 28,2016

the staff of the Ridgewood blog

Atlantic City NJ, with a state takeover in the air Atlantic City has had its share of bad fortunes lately and this November, when voters in A.C. head to the polls, they’ll not only decide whether to gamble on the state-wide casino gaming referendum but also vote on a pair of city-specific school choice ballot questions.

The City Council of Atlantic City is empowered with the authority to submit nonbinding referendum questions to the public in order to ascertain the sentiment of legal voters; and NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Council of the City of Atlantic City hereby submits the following questions to be printed upon the official ballots to be used at the next ensuing General Election as follows: “Shall the State of New Jersey designate the City to begin offering vouchers to families with children ages 6-16 so they can select the school they want their children to attend?” “Shall the State of New Jersey designate the City of Atlantic City to begin offering property tax credits to families with children ages 6-16 who choose to home school?”

The non binding Atlantic City school resolution was passed unanimously by the Democrat controlled governing body . The resolution is the creation of home schooled freshman GOP Councilman Jesse Kurtz, who is also a teachers union (NJEA) member .

Amazingly if the proposal is enacted, Atlantic City would become the first municipality in New Jersey to provide school vouchers. There is currently no law in New Jersey that would allow the city to give out vouchers to parents.

Kutz told the Atlantic City Impact a local paper ,”The vouchers would be redeemable at both private and public schools, pending space, and could save the city money if more students choose to attend private schools, Kurtz said. Students leaving the Atlantic City School District for private schools would reduce the district’s budget, therefore lowering the city’s budget as council tries to stave off a state takeover”

According to their website the Atlantic City teachers union the Atlantic City Education Association
(ACEA) clearly sees school choice as a threat ,and assures its members it “is vigorously fighting against these proposals.”

The Urban Institute a Washington DC think tank takes a different tact , “Evidence indicates that school choice programs can improve the educational and life outcomes of low-income students, but not all programs are equally effective. Charter schools such as KIPP and the Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy have large positive effects on the academic achievement of their (mostly disadvantaged) students.”

The Institute goes on to say , “School choice policy, like most education policy, is largely made at the state and local levels. But the federal government could allow states to enact funding systems where federal, state, and local dollars follow students to the public schools of their choice”.

Atlantic City’s gamble on the future of educational opportunities now rests on residents taking the first step and showing up on election day and making the choice for choice . Success of Atlantic City’s school choice and voucher initiative will be determined by parents , students and local administrators who can then craft educational policy that works best for the students of Atlantic City.