NEWS: After Two Decades, First Step Toward NJ Vouchers

From NJ Spotlight in New Jersey:

A key Senate committee yesterday voted for New Jersey’s first experiment with private school vouchers. That’s not a final verdict but it’s no small vote — and a bitterly fought one — for an effort literally two decades old.

The five-hour budget committee hearing ended with a suspense-filled vote after dark.

With a mix of Republican and Democratic support, the committee voted out the Opportunity Scholarship Act by an 8-5 tally. That cleared the way for its next vote before the full Senate and brought applause and hugs from much of the overflow crowd in the Statehouse.

But with much jockeying still ahead, including before the Assembly, behind the scenes has been a delicate balancing act of deciding exactly who would qualify for the vouchers and how much would they get.

The latest version of the bill would make New Jersey’s program among the more generous in the country, with vouchers, or scholarships, up to $8,000 for elementary and $11,000 for secondary students to attend schools of their choice. The vouchers would be paid for by corporate contributions that in turn would be matched by state tax credits.

As passed yesterday, the bill targets students attending low-performing schools in 13 districts and meeting income thresholds at two-and-a-half times the federal poverty levels. That would be roughly $50,000-60,000 a year, depending on the size of the family. Up to a quarter of them would also be reserved for those already in non-public schools.

With the bill also a centerpiece of Gov. Chris Christie’s education agenda, proponents said it would apply to more than 80,000 students overall, from districts such as Camden, Newark, Jersey City and Elizabeth. They also said the thresholds were in line with New Jersey’s high cost of living.

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