Lesniak Private Education Bill Stalled

State Sen. Ray Lesniak

State Sen. Ray Lesniak

ELIZABETH—Legislation that would have diverted $360 million away from public schools has run into a brick wall in Trenton, says one of the lawmakers who crafted the bill.

Sen. Raymond Lesniak, who sponsored the tuition tax credit bill to implement an idea advocated by George W. Bush and many other Republicans, expects that legislators from his own party will sink the proposal.

Lesniak’s bill, the Urban Enterprise Zone Jobs Scholarship Act (S-1607), would create a tax write-off for corporations that provide scholarships to impoverished children in eight cities across New Jersey. The recipients would be allowed to send their children to the school of their choice, be it private, public or parochial.

The bill made it through the Senate Economic Growth Committee, which is chaired by Lesniak, with only one vote against it. The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee has not posted it for a vote because of opposition from Senate Democrats, Lesniak said.

The New Jersey Education Association has come out strongly against Lesniak’s plan.

“We are opposed to the legislation because it is a voucher bill, it is a diversion of public funds towards private education,” said Steve Baker, spokesman for the NJEA. “When you look at the state of the budget, we don’t believe you can divert $360 million to subsidize private schools without affecting public education and we don’t think it is the job of the taxpayer in New Jersey to subsidize private schools.”

Sen. Teresa Ruiz, who voted against the bill, said she supports private and religious schools but opposes the bill because it would divert revenue from the state budget.

“When you look at the bill and our responsibility as government, my concern is how the state is going to fill this $360 million gap at the end of the five years when we don’t even have enough money to fund hospitals,” Ruiz said. “I have been working with the new administration in Newark and we decided to approach this education problem by focusing on accountability on the part of the school, the parent and the students.”

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