TRENTON – While the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee considered Assembly Bill 2810, a group of activists and Democratic Party elected officials mobilized across from the senate chamber at the Statehouse and denounced the bill as a vouchers lift off station that would TNT public education in the State of New Jersey.
Backed in the Senate by state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth), the Opportunity Scholarship Act enables a pilot program for parents to use public funds to send their children to private schools. Its cross-pollination of support from Gov. Chris Christie and key Democrats gives the bill an aura of invincibility, but at least one legislator here today said she defies the inevitability notion.
“I’m not convinced this bill will pass,” said Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen), accompanied by state Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Lawrenceville) and several assemblypeople in addition to members of the groups Save Our Schools New Jersey and others. “I will fight with every fiber of my being to make sure it doesn’t.”
The bill would establish a five-year pilot program to provide tax credits to corporations that help fund nonprofit organizations that provide scholarships to low-income children who attend “a chronically failing school or nonpublic school to pay tuition at in-district or out-of-district public schools or in-district or out-of-district nonpublic schools located in the State.”
“This is a big bad idea,” said Turner, who objected to corporations receiving a deductible as more Christie administration love for the rich and powerful. The GOP governor last year chose not to reimpose the millionaire’s tax.
The reps of Save Our Schools likewise panned the bill for enabling the diversion of between $360 million and $1 billion tax dollars to private and religious schools “when the state’s public schools are struggling after cuts of more than $1 billion last year, with more public school funding cuts expected in this year’s state budget.”
Other Democrats present in opposition to the legislation were Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing), Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (South Plainfield), and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Englewood).
While bemoaning A2810/S1872 as a vouchers bil out of sync with New Jersey, Watson Coleman also admitted she thinks it has strongly rooted legs.
“It breaks my heart to know that more than likely it’s going to pass,”‘ she said. “Government should not be in the business of funding private schools.”