School Choice and the New Mayor of Newark New Jersey

Recently the city of Newark New Jersey elected a new mayor for the first time in 20 years. Cory Booker is young, a Stanford educated Rhodes scholar, and a democrat who wants to reform the city’s schools.

Mr Booker has crossed party lines with some of his ideas, most notably with his position on vouchers. Booker has said that he favors “any kid of choice programs that are targeted toward poor children who are trapped in failing schools”. He views vouchers as one tool that can be used to solve some serious problems.

Vouchers are just one tool to be used – they certainly are not going to cure the problems of crumbling schools in unsafe areas and the host of other problems the students and teachers of Newark have to deal with daily. There probably are not enough private schools with enough space to accommodate all the students in Newark who might be eligible for vouchers. Newark is supposed to benefit from the 25 year old landmark “Abbot vs. Burke” decision, in which the state was to increase aid to the poorest districts to provide students with opportunities matching those in wealthier districts. Now that the level of aid has been frozen in order to balance New Jersey’s out of control budget, and poor districts statewide have been victimized by the multi billion dollar school construction waste, Mr. Booker will have a tall order to fill in order to realize any progress.

He favors the creation of charter schools, and wants the city to partner with them. He wants new charter schools to build upon the success of existing ones. Mr Booker serves on the boards of several school choice organizations. He says that his first priority is to make the schools safe, and expand tutoring and after school programs. He hopes to create more connections between students and possible future employers. Booker is a critic of school boards, and intends to pursue mayoral control, much as Mayor Bloomberg has done in New York City.

This is a Democrat? Yes. This is a Democrat who has attracted a lot of criticism, a lot of speculation about what he is doing with all those conservatives who support him.

He did not receive the endorsement of the Newark Teachers Union, or the New Jersey Education Association. He did, however, win the election by a 70% landslide margin.

Clearly people are looking for change, and the old political ways will not suffice. It will be interesting to see what kind of progress is made once he takes office in July.