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Delores T. Corona -- Private (Religious) School Vouchers

DELORES T. CORONA was introduced. Since 1985, Ms. Corona has been Director of Government Relations for the New Jersey Educational Association. She is member of the National Association of Legislative and Political Specialists for Education, and the National Staff Association of Education Association. Her address focused on “The Dangers of Private School Vouchers.”

Ms. Corona began by outlining some of the goals for her group, including higher academic standards, paying attention to the diverse needs of students, smaller classes and constant teacher upgrading. She noted that in states like New Jersey, teachers in public schools often encounter a diverse range of students; she added that smaller class size and parental involvement in education must be a key objective in education reform.

Corona then discussed the private voucher “experiment” proposed by Jersey City Mayor Bert Schundler; thanks to public activism by teachers and public school supporters, however, the program was abandoned by the state legislature. Governor Christine Whitman, caving in to pressure from voucher supporters, then formed a special commission which recommended a voucher scheme. Corona noted that at the present time, there is little support for vouchers in either the House or the Senate of the state legislature.

Ms. Corona then suggested that many voucher supporters are motivated by a desire to erode and dismantle the public education system, in favor of sectarian, religious schools. “The motivation is not educational, it’s more ideological.”

Other points made by Delores Corona:

-- The strongest predictor of academic success is family involvement in the education process.

-- There is little or no credible evidence for many of the claims of voucher advocates, including the assertion that private or religious schools make public schools improve, or always provide a better education. “We should not be viewing our childrens’ education with an attitude of marketplace theories... if we do that, we would be exacerbating the fragmentation of our society along class, racial, cultural and other lines...”

Why should private school vouchers be opposed?

  • Corona suggested that vouchers drain funds from the public education system.

  • Claims that vouchers give parents and children a “choice” should be suspect. “Vouchers don’t leave choice to the parent, they give ‘choice’ to the private school. The schools can say to parents, ‘We don’t want you... you’re disabled, you’re the wrong religion, you might be the wrong race.”

    “In short, private and religious schools would engage in ‘creaming’ the best students from the public schools.” Studies show that only 60% of private schools offer remedial programs, 30% meet ‘special needs’ -- whereas all public schools must do all of this. Vouchers are “a smoke screen to avoid tackling the real equity issues in education.”

  • Could even expensive voucher programs help poor families? Corona suggested that they will not. Private schools would capitalize on the influx of voucher funds by raising tuition and other costs.

  • Bottom line: the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from funding sectarian, religious schools. She added that sectarian, religious schools account for over 85% of all private schools in the United States.

  • Ironically, vouchers could lead to more regulation of private and sectarian schools; she noted the case of former New Jersey State Senator John Scott, a Roman Catholic who nevertheless opposed vouchers fearing that it would lead to greater government regulation. Should conservatives really support such a program?

Ms. Corona then discussed the controversial voucher program underway in Milwaukee. Unfortunately, the Wisconsin state Supreme Court upheld the program, which will cover some 15,000 students with vouchers which can be used toward tuition at private and sectarian schools. That decision, unfortunately, has stimulated voucher proposals in Texas, Arizona, New York and elsewhere.

Finally, Corona noted that despite swollen enrollment, limited budgets and other problems, public education continues to improve. Academic achievement and standards are up, drop-out rates for many groups across the nation are down. “When we do what works, public schools works. We need to provide our public schools with the kind of reforms that will make them better.”

She noted that magnet schools, special technical schools and other programs will create genuine choice for parents.

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