Happy New Year! I wish the best for you as 2012 begins.

I also wish that we would stop trying to “fix” our Paterson schools with smoke and mirrors.

There are all sorts of reasons to oppose the voucher legislation known as the “Opportunity Scholarship Act” from the denial of special education services to the lack of accountability for student performance. I won’t go over all the objections to the current bill as the current version of the bill  is changing as you read this. For Paterson students, there is also a very practical problem: where are the schools for them to attend?

Within Paterson itself, there are few private schools who could accept voucher students. The two remaining Catholic parochial schools in Paterson indicate they have 129 openings. Other religious schools in Paterson don’t have websites to provide any information on openings, cost, or student achievement data.

Moving beyond the Paterson borders, access for poor families is a big challenge as well as cost. Many families don’t have cars and must rely on inadequate public transportation.  Four Clifton parochial schools have 160 openings; Academy of St. Francis of Assisi in Totowa has 53 openings. De Paul Catholic High School in Wayne has 178 openings if the OSA voucher can cover the combined tuition and fees of $12,000 with nearly an hour bus ride from Paterson.

Or let’s say you want a private school education for your child. Your OSA voucher will only cover 1/3 of the costs. Montclair Kimberly Academy costs over $30,000 for tuition and fees; Dwight Englewood costs nearly $36,000 for tuition and fees.

The “Opportunity Scholarship Act” is presented as a lifeline for poor Paterson students.  In fact, most of the children who need it most will be unable to utilize the vouchers for very practical reasons.  It’s a cruel hoax to pretend otherwise.

So what to do? Call your legislators and tell them to oppose the “Opportunity Scholarship Act.” There will be one more attempt to pass this bill on Monday, January 9.  Let’s be sure it fails.