Guest Column

Opinion: Ex-N.J. education commissioner: Trump's pick is on the right side of history


New Jersey's U.S. senators, Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, must put partisanship aside and support the nomination of Betsy DeVos for secretary of education. She's earned their support with her advocacy for public education reform and better educational opportunities for children. It also would be in their best political interests.

In the early 1990s, I was elected Jersey City's first Republican mayor in almost a century by a narrow margin. But when I ran for re-election, in this city of only 6 percent Republicans, I won with 69 percent of the vote, brought in all nine of my city council candidates, and even won five of the city's eight housing projects. It was the largest margin of victory in Jersey City's history and the first time one slate won 100 percent of city council seats.

I recall this tidbit of political history because a major reason I won so powerfully was that I was fighting to implement a school voucher program in the city. I wanted to provide poor parents with the same power possessed by wealthier parents to consider private school options for their children.

Sign Up for E-News

My efforts to provide this equality of opportunity caused the National Education Association to make me its "Public Enemy No. 1" and national Democratic Party leaders to heap vitriol upon me, precisely as they are doing now to DeVos because of her support for school choice. Their attacks intended to hurt me politically, but it backfired as more low-income families became aware that I wanted to provide them the ability to do what was best for their children, while the NEA and national Democratic leaders wanted to keep them educationally powerless. "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind," the Proverbs say, and by preventing the fuller educational enfranchisement of the poor, national Democratic leaders drove lifelong Democrats to me.

DeVos has been laboring to expand the educational enfranchisement of the poor for a long time. I served with her on the boards of Children First America and the Alliance for School Choice, two predecessor organizations of the American Federation for Children, where she continues the good fight today.

I'm experiencing a feeling of deja vu all over again and wondering if the Democrats' attacks on DeVos and school choice will simply produce a tsunami of reaction when the next national election comes around -- one that results in Republicans winning percentages of the minority vote not seen since the post-Civil War years, when the Democrats tried, in turn, to block the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery), the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and the 14th Amendment (providing equal protection under the law). The school choice issue cuts powerfully. It is the civil rights battle of our generation -- and history has a way of rolling over those who resist the advancement of social justice.

In the 1990s, even as I fought to have New Jersey implement a pilot voucher program in Jersey City, I also led the fight for statewide charter school legislation and for state tax credits for contributions to K-12 scholarship foundations. These proposals were all opposed by the usual suspects, but the defenders of the status quo were on the wrong side of history. In 1995, we passed charter school legislation in New Jersey. In 2010, as the state's commissioner of education, we implemented many statewide public education reforms that I'd first proposed 15 years before. Now school voucher and scholarship tax credit programs are proliferating throughout the states.

There will come a day when America's public schools are dramatically better than they are today, and when all Americans, the poor as well as the rich, can choose from among excellent public and private school options for their children. Come that day, we will look back on the education battles of the last 20 years and those that are yet to come and we will celebrate the courageous leadership of people such as Betsy DeVos who fought for the progress achieved. We will also censoriously remember those who tried to block it. Let us entreat Menendez and Booker not to be among them.

Bret Schundler, a former mayor, Republican nominee for governor and state commissioner of education in New Jersey, was also the chief operating officer of the Kings College and a founder of three charter schools in Jersey City.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer. Click here to submit a Guest Column.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

New Brunswick

The Jaffe Briefing - March 20, 2018


NEW BRUNSWICK - The governor has targeted The Hub City as the new hub for innovation and technology. Gov. Phil Murphy was in town yesterday to meet with city, business and Rutgers officials to chat about how all the ongoing downtown investment will be a magnet for scientific and technological innovation, TAPInto New Brunswick reports. The ...

The Jaffe Briefing - March 19, 2018


TRENTON - New Jersey, one of the only employers who pays its workers for unused sick time, and then appears mystified when it struggles to balance its budget, may finally be capping sick-leave payouts.  The proposal, obviously unpopular with labor unions, has been discussed before, but not with traction. It is back in the mix again, to cap payouts ...

The Jaffe Briefing - March 16, 2018


ON THE RAILS - Another commuting mess this morning, as the antiquated Portal Bridge got stuck in the "up" position at 4:22 a.m.  That caused a bunch of rush hour trains to be cancelled between Newark and Manhattan for four hours or so.  Both NJTransit and Amtrak riders were completely screwed. You may recall the proposed Gateway ...

The Jaffe Briefing - March 15, 2018


NEW BRUNSWICK - When you rent out apartments to Rutgers students, expect some surprises. But one landlord received a shocker beyond expectation: a $8,117.07 water bill for the last three months of 2017, TAPInto New Brunswick reports. The landlord went to the City Council meeting this week, pleading that the bill on his Comstock Street ...

The Jaffe Briefing - March 14, 2018


TRENTON - Ever since we met Gov. Phil Murphy, he has been talking about the same stuff: higher taxes for the rich, saving NJ Transit, legalizing marijuana, giving more money to public schools and a higher minimum wage. So, when lawmakers went to Trenton yesterday to hear the rookie governor's first budget message, there weren't a lot of ...

The Jaffe Briefing - March 13, 2018


TRENTON - As Gov. Phil Murphy prepares to deliver his first budget address at 2 p.m. today, at the State House, observers will be curious if his proposals jive with the state's pension mess. Look for the governor to talk about campaign topics like equal pay, health care, climate change, immigration and offshore drilling, as well as the proposed ...

Rutgers to close for Wednesday storm

March 20, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK - With the likelihood of more than a foot of snow set to dump on New Jersey, Rutgers University President Robert Barchi has declared a weather emergency closure for all three campuses: New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden.

School will be closed for students and all non-essential employees from 8 a.m. Wednesday, March 21 to 5 a.m. Thursday, March 22.

Rutgers Student on Front Lines of Orangutan Conservation, Research

NEW BRUNSWICK - Deep in a tropical forest in Borneo 15 years ago, Rutgers student Didik Prasetyo first encountered a young male orangutan that he named “Jerry.”

The great ape was one of several orangutans that Prasetyo and other researchers followed at the Tuanan Orangutan Research Station in the Mawas Conservation Area in Indonesia. Prasetyo was skeptical when colleagues said ...

RU police investigate assault on Douglass campus

NEW BRUNSWICK - Rutgers University police are investigating an aggravated assault and attempted sexual assault  reported to March 14 at 3:55 a.m. in front of Hickman Hall on the Douglass campus.


The victim, not affiliated with Rutgers University, reported that she was walking with a male whom she did not know in the area of Commercial Avenue and George ...

New Brunswick schools closed for storm; cars ordered off roads

March 20, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK – With heavy snow on the way, city school officials ordered schools closed for Wednesday, and city police advised residents to get cars off streets and into parking decks.

Four city parking decks will be opened at 8 a.m. Wednesday for people to use to get their vehicles off streets during the storm.

“The purpose of snow facilities is to keep Snow Designated Routes ...


This National Literacy Month, Let's Rein In Screen Time

March 13, 2018

Dear Editor: As speech-language pathologists across New Jersey prepare to mark “National March into Literacy Month,” let’s address the alarming number of young children who spend countless hours a day on a handheld screen.

According to a study from the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting, the more time that children under two years spend on smartphones, tablets and ...

New Jersey Association of Health Underwriters Clinches Gold Certification

March 16, 2018

NEWARK - The National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU) is proud to announce that the New Jersey Association of Health Underwriters has once again received Gold Certification – awarded to the strongest chapters in the nation.

NJAHU achieved Gold Certification from national headquarters underscoring how well the organization has operated and achieved its lofty goals in the ...