Wednesday, April 09, 2008

New Jersey Governor's School... RIP?

For the past two years we've been following the saga of New Jersey's Governor's School. Every summer, this program allowed the state's brightest high school students to attend one of several programs (in the arts, engineering, sciences) free of charge. The programs allowed kids to meet other kids who shared their interests, spend the summer doing something productive, do "real" lab work or work with professional musicians, etc. Historically such programs (which exist in at least 17 states) have been free of charge in order to draw kids from all backgrounds. Many families do not have the disposable income necessary to pay for multi-week camps, particularly if there are multiple children in the family. They may not necessarily be poor (in which case other scholarships for summer camps may become available) but they are not well-off enough to afford the $5,000 or more a month-long camp could cost.

A little over two years ago, New Jersey decided that -- given the limitations that are always a factor in any public budget -- Governor's School would go on the chopping block. Alums and state luminaries who were alarmed by all this quickly raised enough money to keep the programs open for the summer of 2006.

Unfortunately, this temporary reprieve has been just that: temporary. Two years later, Governor's School is still largely out of the state budget. Many of the original large corporate donors have moved on. They gave money initially because of personal connections, but their larger mission is not the education of bright children, so ongoing gifts do not make sense for them. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, for instance, gave $652,000 in 2006, but nothing in 2007 or 2008. Sovereign Bank gave $200,000 in 2006, but nothing in 2007 or 2008. Since the Governor's School Board has not been able to raise enough private money during the budget limbo, they are scaling back programs considerably. GS Arts will be 10 days instead of longer. GS Engineering requires a longer project, so it will cut slots (possibly to 40 from 100).

People can certainly quibble over whether the state should be paying for special summer programs for bright children (though it pays for remedial summer school). But what's particularly fascinating is that New Jersey is a very wealthy state. Most other states with Governor's Schools are not nearly so wealthy. And yet, they still support most or all of their Governor's School projects with state funds. Arkansas and West Virginia, for instance, fund 100% publicly. Even Louisiana, still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, funds more than 50% of its Governor's School out of state funds.

One can only assume that the New Jersey powers-that-be have decided that all smart kids are rich, and hence their families should pay for any additional education they think they need beyond the 180 days a year the state allots them in their local public schools. It's an interesting theory. Anyone who's met extremely bright kids knows it's false, but unfortunately, the middle-class status of most works against them. They're not well off enough to afford private summer schools, but not bad off enough to attract corporate philanthropy or government largesse that seeks to target the "underprivileged." The result is the decline of an institution that once made New Jersey proud.


Anonymous said...

my daughter was accepted to nj gov. school for the arts dance dept. They are thinking about extending the program from the cut back 9 days to include the whole month, however, parents will need to pay $2500.00. Not all can afford that. It's too bad the wealthy benefactors have pulled their support from the kids program. Afterall, they are our future and their grandchildren's future.

Anonymous said...

I was a scholar at the NJ Governor's School in the Sciences in 1985. I can say with absolute certainty that I would never have been able to attend the program if my family had to foot the bill.

The Governor's School program was probably the best four weeks of my high school years. It was enlightening to explore avenues in science that were simply not available to me in high school, as well as to meet other like-minded students.

I have gone on to an engineering career, and since 1993 I have been living, working, and paying substantial taxes in New Jersey. Clearly the investment that NJ made in me has paid off, and I am sure that I am not alone.

kathy said...

My daughter was accepted at school of the arts for 2008. She gave up her dance studio to attend because the rules of studio said she couldn't do both. We thought the 3 week additional supplementary program would be worth her loss of her studio. After the decision was made to attend governors school, the letter came that the extended program that was offered was never sanctioned. Therefore it would not be offered. She is attending Governors school at quite a high price. She hopes her decision was worth the 10 day program that it was cut to. And it is actually 9 days. said...

This is sad news.

I attended the NJ Governor's School on the Environment, 1990, and to this day it still stand out as the best experience of my life.

So much so that I get emotional thinking about how wonderful those four weeks were, how much longer they seemed at the time, and how much at home I felt.

I've now been out of NJ for almost 15 years and am happily living in Southern California, but how can I help keep the NJ Governor's School alive?

I would give anything to be back there enjoying that wonderful experience with wonderful people .. how can I make sure that opportunity stays alive for today's scholars?

Anonymous said...

Here is an update from the Newark Star-Ledger (30 Sept 2008).

Basically, the School for the Arts will not be held next summer, and the other Governor's School programs are planning on big funding reductions as well.

Some great news is that Drew University is offering a four-year scholarship to graduates of the Science program (held at Drew).

Anonymous said...

Frank, I was at Gov. School for the Environ in 90' as well. The experience was exceptional. I recall my AP English teacher turning me on to the program and I went on to take up International Environmental Studies at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. Oh how I miss everyone.... If you remember watching "The Wall" and singing St. Elmo's Fire (For Just a Moment) then we were definitely in the same place at the same time.
The World game and Hunger Banquet were so memorable that I used elements of each during the years I taught on the elem. school level.

Anonymous said...

We are now trying to raise funds for the 2009 NJ Governor's Schools. If any of you have connections to corporate/charitable foundations that might be willing to make a donation, this is how we keep the schools running. Contact a particular school or contact the state Director.

Anonymous said...

my daughter attended the governor's school for engineering, had her best educational experience ever, and I am sure this led to her receiving several large scholarship offers at elite universities-one of which she accepted. We are in the struggling middle class, and could not have afforded either a summer tuition or full pay at her college. Since the State's educational priorities are elsewhere, I hope NJ businesses will invest in talent development to make gifted kids feel valued here.

Anonymous said...

Was at the Governors School of the arts for Music in 1987,, one of the best experiences I have ever had, a shame if the opportunity disappears for future generations