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(TRENTON) – Legislation Assembly Democrats Angel Fuentes and Gary S. Schaer sponsored to establish a pilot program to encourage private corporations to pay for private school scholarships for low-income students in chronically failing public schools was released Thursday by an Assembly panel.
The bill (A-2810) would create the Opportunity Scholarship Act to help children in Asbury Park, Camden, East Orange, Elizabeth, Jersey City, Lakewood, Newark, Orange, Passaic, Paterson, Perth Amboy, Plainfield, and Trenton.
“I don’t believe we should ever be satisfied with the status quo when it comes to education,” said Fuentes (D-Camden). “Thousands of children in New Jersey are attending failing schools, and while we’ve tried numerous approaches, most have not yet produced the positive results we had hoped. We need new approaches and opportunities to help these children find a brighter future. This is a creative and fiscally responsible alternative designed to give our children a better chance to succeed.”
“Ensuring our children receive the best education possible is among our highest priorities,” said Schaer (D-Passaic/Bergen/Essex). “Unfortunately, too many children have not been able to receive that opportunity. This is a plan designed to save money and give children in chronically failing school districts an opportunity to excel. We know this isn’t the only solution to the problems facing failing schools, but we know it’s certainty a way to give children more of a choice in where they attend school.”
The bill establishes a five-year pilot program to provide tax credits to corporations that contribute to nonprofit organizations that provide scholarships to low-income children to attend a nonpublic school or an out-of-district public school.
To be eligible to receive a scholarship, the low-income child must either attend a chronically failing school or attend a nonpublic school, but reside in a school district in which a chronically failing school is located.
The bill defines a chronically failing school as one in which, for the past two school years, at least 40 percent of the students did not pass both the language arts and mathematics subject areas of the state assessments; or at least 65 percent of the students did not pass either the language arts or mathematics subject areas.
The school must also be located in Asbury Park, Camden, East Orange, Elizabeth, Jersey City, Lakewood, Newark, Orange, Passaic, Paterson, Perth Amboy, Plainfield and Trenton.
A child is considered low-income if the child lives in a household in which the income does not exceed 250 percent of the federal poverty level.
“It’s an undeniable fact that parents with limited means are less able to provide educational options for their children, even in those instances in which the public schools are failing their children,” Fuentes said. “All we’re trying to do here is remedy that and allow the parents in failing school districts to select the learning environment that might best meet the needs of their children.”
“It’s critical that we provide a mechanism that will give students enrolled in these repeatedly failing schools the opportunity to receive a quality education,” Schaer said. “In light of New Jersey’s constitutional commitment to ensuring educational justice for every child, we need to try a program like this to assess its impact on the educational opportunity and achievement of children whose current education options are limited to a poorly performing school.”
Under the pilot program, a tax credit will be equal to 100 percent of the contribution a corporation makes to a qualified scholarship organization. The total tax credit of all participating corporations would be capped at an amount to be determined by the Director of the Division of Taxation as sufficient to fund the maximum number of scholarships authorized by the bill in each school year.
The bill limits tax credits in the first year to $24 million, then $48 million, $72 million, $96 million and $120 million in the subsequent years.
The bill was released by the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee.