If New Jersey is to regain its place as an economic powerhouse that creates and attracts well-compensated jobs, it needs to make a case to enterprising and highly educated folk. We’re lucky that we have a strong case to make, but New Jersey’s leaders show no interest in claiming the state’s bragging rights over its competitors.
The 2013 results of “The Nation’s Report Card” released last week are a perfect example. Once again, New Jersey’s public school students scored at the top, with 4th graders tied for second in reading and fourth in math and 8th graders tied for first in reading and second in math.
Any parent would have been proud to receive such a report card, but our political leaders and education officials don’t appear to share this pride. The efficient and responsive communications machine of the governor showed no interest. The education commissioner responded in an interview that “New Jersey continues to substantially outperform most other states” – as if we were middling along at 14th or 20th on the list.
These results are a huge selling point in negotiating with business leaders looking to locate their firms in places where they can compete for the “best and brightest” workers. Ask a realtor about the one of the first questions they get from young families when showing a home: “How good are the public schools?” Where the schools are high performing, the price of houses go up. In towns with high-performing schools and convenient access to New York or Philadelphia, the price goes up even more. New Jersey is loaded with such towns.
One of the biggest economic announcements since the Great Recession is the decision of LG to move its North American headquarters to Englewood Cliffs and with it hundreds of new jobs, the kind of high-quality jobs we want and need. The company did so without asking for the much-lauded tax breaks the state thinks it needs to dole out to compete. So why New Jersey, if not for the subsidies? The chief executive for North America answered that question simply: “Because this is where we want our kids to go to school.”
Strong public schools are an indisputable economic asset. It’s time that New Jersey stopped savaging its schools and teachers and reclaimed one of our greatest bragging rights.
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