Recent amendments to a voucher bill previously designed to cost up to $360 million over five years have made it a $1 billion “budget buster.”
The entire cost of vouchers under S1872 – sponsored by Sens. Raymond Lesniak (D-20) and Tom Kean Jr. (R-21) – would come out of state tax revenue in the form of tax deductions for corporations that make “donations” to organizations which then would provide vouchers to students in eight designated districts.
Corporations contributing to the program would receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit – costing them nothing while sticking New Jersey taxpayers with the tab, and draining the public schools of students and resources.
“This new voucher bill is a budget buster, at a time when neither New Jersey nor its public schools can afford to lose any more resources,” said NJEA President Barbara Keshishian.
“In the current school year alone, the state cut funding to public education by $820 million,” said Keshishian. “Right now, New Jersey is arguing before the state Supreme Court that it cannot afford to restore those cuts for even our most economically challenged public schools. But this legislation would actually drain almost the same amount from state tax revenues. That is unconscionable.”
Now limited to only eight districts, the bill would provide publicly funded subsidies to low-income families in those districts who elect to send their children to private schools. Those annual subsidies would begin at $6,000 for elementary and middle school students. High school students would get a minimum of $9,000. The number of students eligible for vouchers would grow from 3,900 in 2011 to 40,000 in 2015.
Like its predecessor, the bill sets aside at least 25 percent of vouchers for families of students already enrolled in private schools.
“This is a flat-out transfer of public funds to families who have already chosen private schools for their children,” said Keshishian. “What public purpose is served by using public funds to subsidize a decision those families have already made and are already pursuing without public funding?
“This legislation would send hundreds of millions of dollars to private and religious schools that are virtually unaccountable,” Keshishian added. “They do not have to administer state tests to all students; do not have to employ certified teachers; can limit their enrollments; and do not even have to offer special education programs, which cost far more to administer.”
In fact, the bill sends a clear “do not apply” message to parents of special needs students.
S1872 specifically forbids vouchers to go to schools that discriminate on the basis of “intellectual or athletic ability, measures of achievement or aptitude, status as a handicapped person, proficiency in the English language, or any other basis that would be illegal if used by a school district,” but a later section allows nonpublic schools to obtain “written acknowledgment from the parent or guardian that a nonpublic school may not provide the same level of special education services that are provided in a public school.” Acceptance of a voucher would have “the same effect as a parental refusal to consent to services pursuant to” the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Translation: parents of special needs students can only get a voucher if they sign away their child’s legal right to federally mandated special education services.
NJEA promised to join forces with a broad coalition of organizations to fight the legislation.
illustrates how S1872 will cost the state hundreds of millions... and corporations nothing over five years.