Atlantic City, New Jersey voters will decide whether to establish tax credits for homeschooling parents and school vouchers for the city’s children when they go to the polls in November.
City Councilmen Jesse Kurtz and Aaron Randolph proposed the referendum, which the council approved unanimously in August.
The referendum asks voters whether parents who homeschool their children should receive property tax credits and whether the city should offer school vouchers redeemable at public and private schools.
New Jersey currently has no statewide school choice programs. Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) proposed Opportunity Scholarship Demonstration Grants, a voucher program for low-income students, failed to pass the state’s legislature in 2013.
‘Struggle with the State’
Kurtz says Atlantic City is facing a financial crisis that is hurting families.
“We have been in a protracted struggle with the state on a number of issues, and one of the reasons that’s happening is the high cost of government in Atlantic City,” Kurtz said. “We run a $100 million-plus deficit in our budget each year, and we have more than $500 million worth of debt on the municipal side. The school side recently increased their taxes by 8 percent. The school board is really tone-deaf in being mindful of the working families who are struggling to hold on to their homes.”
Kurtz says the referendum is partly about making homeschooling less of a burden on families.
“I’ve talked to families who would love to homeschool but can’t quite make it work with their family budget for the direct expense of curriculum as well as the indirect expense of lost wages of the parent doing the instructing,” Kurtz said. “Parents are the primary educator of their children, whether they do it themselves or they relegate it to state-run or privately run institutions. Expenses are too often in the way for families.”
Gaining a ‘Competitive Edge’
The tax credits could also help build up the city’s business sector, Kurtz said.
“Part of the motivation for this tax credit is Atlantic City is located within the foreclosure capital of the country, and the economic prospects of the city are pretty bleak,” Kurtz said. “When you have this growing number of foreclosures and vacant homes, there needs to be something done to give a competitive edge to our area to attract homeschoolers. Homeschooling is a niche community, but it is considerable enough where people would be attracted from other parts of the state and tri-state area for a tax credit. Homeschool families are more mobile because they are not tied to a district or area school.
“In other areas, homeschooling has become trendy and has meshed well with the new urbanite movement,” Kurtz said. “In Silicon Valley, there’s a significant homeschool [community] among tech professionals. I’d like to see more, smaller tech shops come to town, home office-based businesses, or commuters who drive to Philadelphia or Washington, DC once or so a month.”
Public Schools ‘Lacking’
Atlantic City resident Sylvia Logan has homeschooled her six boys for nearly a decade.
“There was something lacking in the public schools,” Logan said. “Those three components that have to work in cooperation to get the job done: the parent, the child, and the educators; I felt that the educators’ part wasn’t measuring up.
“I took them out somewhere around the junior high years, did a few years of homeschooling, and then reinserted them to prepare them for college entry,” Logan said.
Initially, Logan paid for homeschool support services that included curriculum, tests, and grading, but when the main breadwinner of her family became sick, she lost the income to cover those costs.
“The expense was tough for me,” Logan said. “I had to do without a lot.”
‘Just So Exciting’
Logan says the proposed tax credit has the potential to build a community of homeschoolers.
“It’s just so exciting to even entertain that idea, because I think of parents coming together and even doing one or two field trips a year, any number of things we could do collectively,” Logan said. “We could begin to establish something in our community for our homeschoolers, not just individuals taking the benefit of the money for themselves. … I know if we came together we could do some wonderful things for the children.”
Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.