TRENTON—The New Jersey School Boards Association expressed its opposition to a bill that would use corporate tax credits to fund school vouchers, essentially diverting public funds to non-public schools at a time when boards of education are dealing with a $1.2 billion cut in state aid to education.
The “Opportunity Scholarship Act” (S-1872) was released Thursday by the Senate Economic Growth Committee. It could be voted on by the full Senate as early as May 20. The bill would give tax credits to corporations that contribute to a fund, operated by the Department of Treasury, which would provide “scholarships” – vouchers – that may be used at a public or non-public school of a student’s choice.
The proposal would divert a minimum of $360 million from the state’s general fund over the next five years.
“NJSBA questions the logic of diverting funds from the state’s revenue stream to private school programs at a time when sufficient funds are not available for our public schools,” said Marie S. Bilik, the organization’s executive director.
Advocates of the bill say that it will help ensure access to a quality education for all New Jersey children, regardless of race, academic ability or ethnic background.
“New Jersey is home to some of the best schools and most dedicated teachers the country has to offer, ” said Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union). “But unfortunately there are some schools that our failing our children year after year and it is reflected in their low test scores and high drop-out rates. These bills are an attempt to stop that pattern of failure and give all children who are willing to work hard an opportunity to make a better life for themselves and to have a chance at the American Dream.”
The Opportunity Scholarship Act would create a pilot program in 36 districts where at least one traditional public school, charter school or alternative public school is identified by the state Department of Education as “chronically failing.” Any low-income student in the district, even one not attending a “failing” school, could apply for a voucher.
In addition, the bill would reserve one-quarter of the funds generated by the tax credits for students already attending a non-public school.
“The bill also raises practical questions,” said Bilik. “Who is responsible for transporting ‘scholarship’ students to the schools outside their home district? Is it the student’s district of residence, or the receiving district? Will designated districts be required to replicate support programs available to students in their original districts, such as after-school programs?
“This proposal ignores local school boards’ responsibility to represent their communities in determining school choice options,” Bilik continued. “It also does not address the needs of students in targeted districts who do not participate in the program. A better approach would be for the state to direct improvement efforts within the public school system in a way that ensures that they reach all schoolchildren.”
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