During his time as governor, Jeb Bush established this state as a national education laboratory to test ideas like school vouchers and performance evaluations.
Now, New Jersey is joining Florida at the forefront of the national education debate under Republican Gov. Chris Christie, as The New York Times reported last week. One of Christie’s proposals sounds a lot like the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which started under Bush and is set to expand under legislation signed last year by then-Gov. Charlie Crist:
Mr. Christie has also called for more charter schools and adoption of a voucherlike system that would provide scholarships so students in low-performing schools could attend other schools. (The New Jersey scholarships would be financed by private corporations in exchange for tax credits.)
Vouchers have been tried in Cleveland, Milwaukee and Washington, among other places, with mixed success, said James Lytle, an education professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the superintendent of the Trenton public schools from 1998 to 2006.
“There isn’t much evidence that these approaches improve student performance,” said Dr. Lytle, who is concerned that such plans could divert resources from the public schools.
Some of the evidence that does exist — and is now cited by voucher supporters like conservative policy blogger Reihan Salam — comes from Florida, in the form of a study of the tax credit program by Cassandra Hart and David Figlio of Northwestern University. They found small but noticeable performance gains in school performance due to the competitive pressure the program places on public schools.
Christie, like Gov. Rick Scott, has sought the advice of former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. Now voucher critics and advocates alike are watching to see whether Scott is able to follow through with his more ambitious ideas for expanding vouchers.
In his latest weekly radio address, Scott repeated his pledge to “create a system where the funds follow the student, not the program, and where parents have more flexibility to choose their children’s education,” but didn’t provide any new specifics: