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.