The Secret to Better Public Schools and Balanced State Budgets: Strong Private Schools

Cory Larkin /

What happens when parents have the opportunity to exercise choice and send their children to private schools? Children get an education that best meets their unique needs, and taxpayers get to put some hard-earned dollars back in their pockets.

Per-pupil annual expenditures in New Jersey public schools now average $17,000, eclipsing school spending in other states. But the Governor’s Study Commission on New Jersey’s Nonpublic Schools recently determined that New Jersey private schools save the Garden State $2.7 billion annually.

Yet in the past five years, non-public school enrollment has dropped by more than 29,000 as the economy has made it even more difficult for parents to pay private school tuition as well as high property taxes, which fund the state’s public schools.

The irony is that the state saves nearly $3 billion per year precisely because parents are willing and able to pay the per-pupil equivalent for a state tuition and then leave that money on the table for the state to use as it wishes while footing a second tuition for their children to attend private school.

In their report, the Governor’s Study Commission on New Jersey’s Nonpublic Schools recommended that “some form of tax scholarships or tax credits be enacted in the state, which would help parents choose to send their children to nonpublic schools,” noting that “there are important economic reasons to keep private schools strong.”

A tax credit program would not only save taxpayers money; it would create greater educational choice for families while sparking the competitive pressure necessary for both public and private schools to provide the highest quality education to students.

It’s another reform measure for a long-stagnant public education system. But for Governor Chris Christie, shaking up the status quo has been par for the course. Last week, the governor took the public education system to task, stating:

[Teachers are] getting 4 and 5 percent salary increases a year. In a 0 percent inflation world. They get free health benefits from the day they’re hired for their entire family until the day they die. They believe they are entitled to this shelter from the recession when the people who are paying for that shelter are the people who have been laid off, who’ve lost their homes, had their hours cut back. And all we ask them to do is freeze their salary for one year and pay 1.5 percent of their salary for their health benefits.

If Christie continues to turn up the heat on the state education system by strengthening private schools and parents’ ability to afford them, he could set New Jersey back on the right track and serve as a model for schools around the nation.

These could be some welcome changes for students and taxpayers.

Cory Larkin currently is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation.  For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm