TRENTON – At a meeting of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, D-Union, issued the following testimony in support of his bill, S-1607, known as the “Urban Enterprise Zone Jobs Scholarship Act,” which would establish a pilot program to provide tax credits for companies which provide tuition scholarships to children in certain UEZ municipalities:
“I’d like to start by reading excerpts from an article by Star-Ledger education reporter John Mooney. The entire column is attached to my statement:
‘The 15 graduates of Newark’s Blessed Sacrament School, whose commencement Monday was held in the adjoining church of the same name, are a special group from a school that’s had plenty of special students since opening in 1916.
‘The valedictorian is off to a Connecticut prep school on full scholarship. The point guard on the basketball team will attend the vaunted St. Anthony High School in Jersey City. A third will attend the archdiocese’s Christ the King High School in Newark.
‘But perhaps most notable, the Class of 2008 is also Blessed Sacrament’s last.
‘Yesterday, Blessed Sacrament became the latest Catholic school in the state to close, part of a trend in the last decade that has seen a third of the schools close in the Newark Archdiocese alone.’ (Mooney, Star Ledger, June 11, 2008)
“The school was a victim of shifting demographics and the money crunch striking faith-based schools nationwide, particularly the cities.
“The school faced ever-rising costs, no longer able to rely on nuns who once taught there as a vocation. Tuition climbed to $3,200 last year, with a fundraising requirement on families pushing the figure over $4,000.
“‘That was really the nail in the coffin,’ said Alice Terrell, principal for the last three years. ‘When that went up, many pulled themselves out. [They] Just couldn’t afford it.’
“Undoubtedly, the bill is an attempt to give some poor children an opportunity to be educated in a private school setting: an opportunity they now have no chance of experiencing.
“But it is also an attempt to save tax dollars by keeping faith based schools open.
“In the past 10 years, 100 Catholic schools in New Jersey have closed, increasing the public school population by 40,000 students. Without the Urban Scholarship Act, more closings will commence; many of the remaining 80,000 students will likewise join their former classmates.
“One school in Jersey City and three elementary schools in Bayonne are closing right now. There remains one school left on the edge of Trenton, where at one time there were 15. Schools in the pilot districts are closing at a rate of approximately eight schools per year.
“There are also other Christian denominations, Jewish and other faiths, struggling to keep their schools open. The total might swell even more if they have to likewise close their schools.
“The cost of a public school education is more than double the cost at faith based schools. The fiscal consequences of doing nothing will be devastating. Do the math. The Catholic school closings alone to date cost taxpayers over $600 million a year.
“The cost of this pilot program, $24 million from next year’s budget, is a meager investment designed to help children from low-income families and our taxpayers.
“Using ten-year historical data, 4000 additional students a year will enter the public school system because of private school closings. That’s an additional cost of $60 million the first year, $120 million the second, $180 million the third, $240 million the fourth and $300 million the fifth or to use NJEA math a cost of $900 million to the taxpayers of the State of New Jersey.
“I can’t guarantee that this pilot program will stop the closings of faith based schools. But I can guarantee that if we do not pass this bill, the closings will continue, and at a faster pace.
“And who will be hurt as a result?: the children and the taxpayers of the State of New Jersey.”