The Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee on Feb. 3 released the “Opportunity Scholarship Act” (A-2810), a bill that would establish a pilot program to provide vouchers for low-income children for education in non-public schools.
NJSBA opposes the bill, as it would divert state revenue to private schools during a time when sufficient money is not available to fund the existing school-aid law.
Tax Credits to Vouchers The bill, which has the support of the Christie Administration, calls for a five-year pilot program in which corporations receive tax credits for contributing to a fund that would give vouchers to students in specific districts with one or more “failing” schools. The vouchers – worth $8,000 for elementary school pupils and $11,000 for high school students – could be used at any public or non-public school.
Low-income children from 13 “targeted” districts could receive the vouchers: Asbury Park; Camden; East Orange; Elizabeth; Jersey City; Lakewood; Newark; Orange; Passaic; Paterson; Perth Amboy; Plainfield, and Trenton.
Public school students living in any of the 13 districts could apply for a voucher – even if they don’t attend a school deemed to be "failing." In addition, a fourth of the funds generated by tax credits would be reserved for students already attending non-public schools.
NJSBA noted that the proposal does not address the needs of students in targeted districts who do not participate in the program.
Differing Versions The Assembly measure differs from its Senate counterpart (S-1872) in the number of scholarships and total amount of tax credit money to be made available to students. The Assembly version would serve 19,000 students with a $360 million cap, while the Senate bill, provides for serving up to 40,000 students in 13 pilot districts with an estimated cost of up to $1 billion by the fifth year of the program.
A-2810 now goes to the Assembly Budget Committee for a hearing. The Senate version, may be posted for a vote by the full Senate at any time.
Other bills that recently advanced in the Legislature include:
Dating Violence The Senate Education Committee on Jan. 31 advanced a bill (S-2114) that directs the state Department of Education to develop a school district policy on how to report and respond to date violence, and it requires school districts to provide dating violence education in the health curriculum.
The Assembly version of the bill, A-2920, was approved by the Assembly Education Committee last month. NJSBA supports the bill.
Shared services An Assembly bill (A-2786), which permits local units to participate in cooperative purchasing agreements, was released by the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee on Feb. 3. The bill states it will allow “local units to be able to participate in competitively solicited contracts previously awarded pursuant to a cooperative purchasing agreement. This will increase the purchasing options of local units, decrease purchasing costs, and reduce administrative expense.” NJSBA supports the measure.
Computer Rehab The Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee on Feb. 3 released a bill (A-1057) that would establish a “computers for schools” program in the state Department of Corrections, providing for the refurbishing of used computers to be made available to school districts. NJSBA supports the bill.