2,500 Supporters Demand the State Legislature Pass the Opportunity Scholarship Act

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TRENTON – An estimated 2,500 parents, students and educators rallied on the Statehouse steps today to urge state lawmakers to pass the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA), chanting “Save our Children” and “OSA, OSA”

Travelling on 58 chartered buses, supporters from as far away as Paterson, Passaic, Newark, Camden, Elizabeth, Lakewood, Perth Amboy, Asbury Park, Camden, Somers Point, Orange and East Orange demanded legislative action during the lame-duck period.

“We have been waiting more than 20 years for the State of New Jersey to reform the public schools and it has failed,” said the Rev. Reginald T. Jackson, executive director of the Black Ministers Council. “We want the Opportunity Scholarship Act so low-income children and families have options. This is about opportunity.”

The landmark school choice legislation would provide tax credit scholarships for up to 40,000 needy children that can be used at participating public and non-public schools. The bill (S-1872/A-2810) would establish a pilot program in 13 school districts.

Kevin Chavous, a national school reform leader, told the crowd this is not a Republican or Democrat issue. All lawmakers need to recognize that public schools are in crisis and this is their opportunity to stand for children.

“I’ve heard there is a movement in New Jersey to ‘Save our Schools’,” Chavous said. “We need to save our children before we save school buildings. The most pressing thing we have are these children. We’re going to give education to every child in every way possible.”

Authors of the bi-partisan legislation also voiced their support to the crowd.

State Sen. Thomas Kean (R-Union) said it is unfair for school children to pay in the future for the failings of adults now. “Let’s give kids in every zip code access to a quality education,” Kean said. “Help us pass this bill.”

Assemblyman Angel Fuentes (D – Camden), another primary sponsor, said lack of action on the Opportunity Scholarship Act in recent years has “killed thousands of children’s dreams.”

“These children look up to us for guidance,” he said. “If a child has failed, we have all failed. The price of leadership is responsibility. As leaders, we need to act now.”

The rally also included speeches from parents and students, both of whom expressed deep concerns that low-income children will have little chance to succeed if the state Legislature does not act now.

Ariana Tavaras, a senior attending Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth with the help of a scholarship, said she is worried about her friends who are attending the public schools and have limited resources, as opposed to what her school offers. “They need to go to a school for the type of education they need to get ahead in the world,” she said. “We need the OSA. We can’t have cities where kids are not educated.”

Laura Farrington, a teacher at St. Michael’s School in Newark, spoke of how her child had not received a quality education in Newark Public Schools, and had hoped for a second chance in a city charter school. “I tried to put my child in a charter school lottery, but only one out of 10 of the kids gets in,” she said, adding the OSA is the only viable solution for many children to get the education they need.

“Why are they standing in the way of people trying to help us?” she asked. These children want to work. They want to study hard. Are you going to tell them `no’? Put the OSA on the agenda. Pass the OSA.”

The event was coordinated by the New Jersey School Choice Alliance, a non-profit organization engaging the public about the need for legislative action that guarantees parental school choice. The intent is to provide public funding that follows children to the school of their parents’ choice, whether public or private.

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