School Voucher Bill May Be On Track To Become Law In N.J.

A bill that would create a school voucher plan aimed at 13 school districts in New Jersey easily cleared a legislative committee last month and may soon reach the desk of Gov. Chris Christie (R).

The bill was approved by the state Assembly’s Commerce Committee 5-0 Feb. 3. Supporters claim it has the votes to pass the full assembly and the state Senate.

The bill would create a backdoor voucher plan by granting tax credits to businesses that contribute money to a scholarship fund for religious and other private schools. The New­ark Star-Ledger reported that by its fifth year, the state would be losing $800 million in tax revenue.

The program would target 40,000 students in 13 districts deemed “failing.” Vouchers for elementary school students would be pegged at $8,000 per year and at $11,000 for high school students.

“This is a sign that we’re serious about education reform and considering all options,” said Assembly member Albert Coutinho, an Essex Democrat who chairs the Commerce Com­­mit­tee.

Christie, who was elected in 2009, has made vouchers a top legislative priority.

Opponents, including Americans Un­i­ted, have pointed out that voucher plans in other states have failed to boost student performance and that tax subsidies for religious education raises serious constitutional issues.

In others news about vouchers:

• Voucher opponents are gearing up for a battle in Pennsylvania. Newly elected Gov. Tom Corbett (R) has vowed to push vouchers, and both chambers of the legislature are under GOP control. State Sen. Jeff Piccola has already introduced a voucher bill and scheduled hearings on it.

• The speaker of Indiana’s House of Representatives, Brian Bosma, has introduced a bill (HB 1003) that would establish a wide-ranging voucher plan in the state. Families with incomes as high as $105,000 could get vouchers, and there would be no limit on the number offered.