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Lesniak ‘Opportunity Scholarship Act’ Approved

Measure Would Allow Students in Failing Schools to Receive Quality Education

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Raymond Lesniak which would establish a pilot program to encourage private corporations to fund scholarships for low-income students in chronically failing public schools was approved by the Senate Economic Growth Committee today by a vote of 6-0.

“We cannot continue to turn our backs on students who are wasting their potential in schools which, year after year, continue to fail their students,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union. “Through this bill, we can give students the opportunity to receive the quality education they deserve. We can give students and their families a measure of choice and control, rather than force kids into failing schools simply because of their home address and their economic status.”

The bill, a Senate Committee Substitute for S-1872, would establish a five-year pilot program to provide tax credits to corporations which contribute funding to create opportunity scholarships for low-income students. Under the program, corporations would be able to recoup 100% of their contribution in a tax credit on their Corporate Business Tax (CBT) obligation, so long as the credit does not make their overall tax obligation less than the statutory minimum. The roll-out of the program would be phased-in, so that $24 million would be made available for the program in the first year, $48 million in the second year, $72 million in the third year, $96 million in the fourth year, and $120 million in the final year.

Low-income students who attend chronically failing schools would be able to take advantage of these opportunity scholarships to transfer out of the failing school and into a public or private school of their choosing.

“In some of our poorest communities throughout the State, we have not met the promise of a thorough and efficient education for students in need of the tools to build a better tomorrow for themselves,” said Senator Lesniak. “The result is a vicious cycle of poverty that kids aren’t likely to escape. Through this bill, we’re giving them the opportunity to achieve that would otherwise be denied them in a failing, inadequate school.”

Senator Lesniak noted that the bill also requires that, for each student who obtains a scholarship, a school district’s State aid would be reduced by the per pupil amount, with the funds being deposited in an Educational Innovation Fund, to award grants in order to improve chronically-failing schools.

“This bill represents a two-pronged approach to fix failing schools,” said Senator Lesniak. “We have to give students the opportunity to transfer out of the worst schools in the State, but we cannot abandon those students who do not receive opportunity scholarships. The Educational Innovation Fund allows us to commit resources to improve failing schools for future generations.”

The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, before going to the full Senate for consideration.

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