School Choice Gains in N.J.

Published November 1, 2006

New Jersey residents strongly support corporate tax credit-funded scholarships, according to a poll conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute (MUPI) released in late September. Legislation that would pilot such a program, called the Urban Schools Scholarship Act, is currently in motion in Trenton (see sidebar).

The poll and legislation come on the heels of a class-action lawsuit filed July 13 by parents of children attending failing public schools.

Excellent Education for Everyone, known as E3, commissioned the poll, which was conducted by phone in July and released on September 27. E3 is a statewide nonprofit advocate for school choice.

The poll reveals strong support for corporate tax credit scholarships and vouchers in general.

Support Broadening

Dan Gaby, executive director of E3, said he believes the poll reflects the growing bipartisan, broad support that school choice enjoys in New Jersey.

“By far, the constituencies that supported these concepts were urban, poor minorities, all previously hostile,” Gaby said. “In addition, we are moving rapidly away from the former reality that Democrats aren’t interested in school choice.”

The school choice option receiving the strongest support in the poll was corporate tax credit scholarships, with 74 percent of respondents in favor. Democrats and Republicans alike supported the program (at 80 percent and 74 percent, respectively).

Minorities’ support for the measure, at 88 percent, was particularly substantial.

Support for vouchers was lower, experiencing a 12 percent drop since the 2003 poll. Nevertheless, a majority of respondents, 54 percent, reported supporting the voucher option. Sixty-six percent of all parents and 62 percent of black and Hispanic respondents supported vouchers.

Choice Flexible

The poll also measured support for amending the state’s current school financing formula. More than 50 percent of respondents agreed funding should be attached to the pupil and not doled out to districts in a lump sum. School choice advocates consider the former formula much more desirable, as it allows for more flexibility for individual students.

MUPI Director Patrick Murray, who designed the poll, said the methodology, which included polling a random sample of 802 New Jersey residents, was created to gauge the depth of support for the three issues statewide.

“This poll shows support for school choice in urban and suburban areas, among different races, and even different political parties,” Murray said. “People like choice, and parents, in particular, like choice in education for their children.”

Support Decreased

Steve Wollmer, spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, challenged the design of the poll’s questionnaire, calling it misleading.

“This is becoming an annual E3 ritual,” Wollmer said, “and just another attempt to drive policy through polling.”

Murray defended the poll design and noted that, absent a legislated voucher program, the response to the questionnaire will always rely in part on a citizen’s understanding of vouchers.

Lawsuit Filed

As the Urban Schools Scholarship Act idled, a class-action lawsuit filed July 13 by 12 New Jersey parents (Crawford v. Davy) was underway at Superior Court of New Jersey.

The parents contend their children’s public schools are chronically failing. Therefore, they say, they should be able to remove their children from their failing schools and take with them the per-pupil funding allotment to apply to another public or private school.

According to the 2006 Comparative Spending Guide, published annually by the New Jersey Department of Education, in 2004-05 that per-pupil allotment averaged $11,237 for each K-12 student statewide. Petitioners in the suit say they represent more than 60,000 New Jersey public school students.

Kate McGreevy ([email protected]) is a freelance education writer residing in Washington, DC.

For more information … “Statewide Poll Offers Findings on New Jersey Citizens’ Opinions on Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship Program, School Funding Options, and School Vouchers,” E3, September 27, 2006,

The text of Crawford v. Davy is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to and search for document #19830.

“Comparative Spending Guide, March 2006,” New Jersey Department of Education,