Thursday, December 1, 2011

In the Backyard of the New Jersey Legislature, Thousands Rally to Demand School Choice

Rev. Reginald T. Jackson speaks before a crowd of thousands at a rally for 
the Opportunity Scholarship Act in Trenton, NJ, on Dec. 1.

"We vote you in!"

"We'll vote you out!"

The chant was at first a bit difficult to hear, but after a few refrains—and a steady increase in volume—the message to the men and women working in the building in front of the crowd couldn't be denied.

That was the scene today at the New Jersey State Capitol in Trenton, where over 2,000 students, parents, education advocates, and legislators joined together to express their unwavering desire for school choice in the Garden State.

The rally was in favor of the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA), the legislation currently being considered in the state legislature, which convenes at the very place where Thursday's rally was held. The OSA would create a tax credit scholarship program for low-income students trapped in the state's worst-performing school districts, finally giving their parents the opportunity to send them to high-quality schools.

We were on hand in Trenton today, and the atmosphere was electric. We did our best to give live updates of the action through the cold Jersey winds, and you can check out our Twitter feed for many of the updates here.

Organized by We Can Do Better New JerseyE3 (Excellent Education for Everyone), and other members of the New Jersey School Choice Alliance, local favorites like Rev. Reginald T. Jackson, executive director of the Black Ministers Council, said that it was time to stop falling back on old excuses that more money can solve the state's education crisis (in fact, there are New Jersey school districts spending as much as $25,000 per student, while continuing to under-perform).

"The issue is not about money," Jackson told the crowd. "The issue is the quality of learning. We need the Opportunity Scholarship Act Now!"

(Click here to see Jackson's speech at our 2011 National Policy Summit. You can also watch a short clip of the speech here.)

A bipartisan group of legislators and advocates made up the speakers at the Capitol, including our own Kevin P. Chavous, a Democrat who is just one in a growing coalition of progressive leaders who are willing to buck the status quo.

"This is not about Republican or Democrat," Chavous said. "This is about our future."

Former D.C. Councilman Kevin P. Chavous struck a bipartisan
tone at a Dec. 1 rally for school choice in Trenton, NJ.

"The revolution for change starts here in New Jersey," he continued. "This is your opportunity to have your voice heard."

Legislators traveled from as far away as Georgia, the home of State Rep. Alisha Morgan (D). She echoed an earlier point from Chavous about how kids need to be at the heart of the education reform debate—not the jobs of bureaucrats, systems, or school buildings.

"It's not about systems," Morgan told an energized crowd. "It's about kids."

The distance traveled was much shorter for some other supporters, including New Jersey State Sen. Thomas Kean, Jr., who only needed to step outside his office building to express his support for the OSA. But being on his home turf didn't supress his energy, as the Republican Minority Leader made clear that this is not a fight against public education, teachers, or those New Jersey public schools that are boasting high achievement.

"I’m a proud supporter of public education." Kean said. "It is the responsibility of state government to ensure that every child in New Jersey has access to a quality education, regardless of zip code. And that’s why I am fighting so hard for the Opportunity Scholarship Act."

New Jersey State Sen. Thomas Kean, Jr. and an excited student
speak to the Trenton crowd at Dec. 1's school choice rally.

This is only the first of many efforts by school choice advocates to let legislators know that there's a groundswell of support for choice in New Jersey. As the legislative session heats up, expect even more cheers from the people, letting their elected officials know that it's time to put aside politics, special interests, and the status quo.

It's time to do what's right for kids.

It's time to pass the Opportunity Scholarship Act.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

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