May 17 2010
Vicki E. Alger
Last Thursday the New Jersey Senate Economic Growth Committee unanimously approved the Opportunity Scholarship Act to help low-income public-school students escape failing schools. The plan establishes a five-year pilot program to provide tax credits to businesses that make donations to nonprofit organizations that award scholarships to low-income students who attend a chronically failing school so they can attend better public or private schools. Businesses would receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credits, and total contributions would be capped at 424 million the first year, increasing annually up to a $120 million cap in year five. The program would help up to 20,000 students.
The New Jersey Education Association packed the committee room in protest. According to published reports, bill co-sponsor "Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) said he asked them to make room for some of the bill's supporters, splitting the seating evenly between the two sides. ‘They said we're not moving. So we'll have it outside,' he said. Statehouse staff carried out desks and chairs for senators, and the hearing-complete with testimony and parliamentary procedure-was held in front of hundreds of demonstrators. ‘It's a great lesson in civics,' Lesniak said." The NJEA was not amused, but hundreds of supporters rallied outside the Statehouse.