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Christie wins endorsement of black ministers, who call for school vouchers

By Salvador Rizzo |July 8, 2013
The Star-Ledger

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie’s strong support of school vouchers today earned him the endorsement of Bishop Reginald Jackson, one of New Jersey’s most influential black ministers.

Jackson, the executive director of the New Jersey Black Ministers Council and a Newark community leader, described himself as a Democrat and noted that he endorsed Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine in 2009 when Christie first ran.

But Jackson today said state Democratic lawmakers have disappointed him by refusing to pass the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a bill that would give children in low-performing urban schools a publicly funded scholarship to attend a private school or another public school instead. (more…)

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Christie’s Proposed School Voucher Program At Latest Crossroads

Democrats claim Opportunity Scholarship Grants will never make it to the final budget, but can they deliver?

NJ Spotlight

At $2 million, the Christie administration’s proposed school voucher program is a very small piece of the $12.4 billion that the state projects it will spend on public education next year.

But the puny dollar amount belies the provocative and polarizing debate that the Opportunity Scholarship Grant has already kicked off, one that shows no sign of subsiding as the Senate budget committee nears the close of deliberations on Gov. Chris Christie’s $32.8 billion budget plan today.

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), the Democratic majority leader, this weekend repeated earlier comments that she was convinced the Democrats would put an end to the pilot, which would provide $10,000 vouchers for low-income students to attend qualifying schools, public or private.

“We negotiate a budget, and when we take it out, the governor can’t put it back in,” she said yesterday. “I am of the firm conviction from both of our caucuses that we will remove it. I really believe it is dead.”

State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), the chairman of the budget committee, last month said much the same thing: there were too many Democrats against it being part of an appropriations bill — if any law at all.

“We are going to negotiate a budget, and there is strong Democratic opposition to including that in there,” Sarlo said. “It is hard to justify [paying for this] when you have some districts having a hard time surviving.”

Still, despite stiff opposition, the advocates aren’t giving up.

Bishop Reginald Jackson — head of the state’s Black Ministers Council — said Friday that he remain positive about its prospects, although he demurred when it came to providing specifics.

“I am optimistic it will stay in the budget,” said the long-time advocate of the voucher program. “I’m not guaranteeing anything, but I remain an optimist.”

Given the small amount of money at stake, the voucher program was always seen by some as a bargaining chip that the governor and Democratic leaders could add or subtract without much concern for its impact on the bottom line.

But the stakes are high for advocates and adversaries, who have long fought this battle and not likely to let this opportunity pass.

Christie has been pressing for vouchers since he first ran for governor, and it is the one piece of his education agenda still unfulfilled. If he makes it a priority in finishing up a budget — and is willing to sacrifice elsewhere — school vouchers may be back in play, some said.

It’s not going to be easy. The New Jersey Education Association is starting to gear up for the fall gubernatorial and legislative campaign, and it is sure to keep a sharp eye on what it has always called a seminal issue.

It has argued that the latest proposal would be legally suspect if included in an annual budget act, rather than enacted through its own legislation.

“The governor’s proposal isn’t just bad policy, because vouchers do not lead to higher achievement while weakening public schools,” said Steve Wollmer, the NJEA’s communications chief. “It’s also most likely unconstitutional as a budgetary maneuver.”

Meanwhile, the scholarship program is only one of several issues that are expected to come up today in the Senate committee’s deliberations.

A big question remains the Christie administration’s whopping increase in assessments to make districts pay a share of the state’s bonds for school construction grants.

While Christie has maintained that no district would see a cut in state aid in his next year’s budget — which he has called largest state aid package in history — once the assessment increases are factored in, 270 districts seeing less money than last year.

Christie’s office has said the assessments are separate from aid, but Sarlo last month said that was a “matter of semantics” and close to half of the districts are seeing a loss in state money.

“When you ask the PTA mom, it’s the total amount the schools get from the state, that’s what they care about,” Sarlo said.

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Christie hopes budget will bring elusive success to school vouchers

By Jarrett Renshaw/The Star-Ledger 
April 12th, 2013 

TRENTON —After three years of failing to get his school voucher program through the state Legislature, Gov. Chris Christie is using a new strategy: make it a bargaining chip in state budget talks. (more…)

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UPDATED: Governor quizzed about education issues at South Amboy town hall meeting

Christie promotes bill for vouchers at confab at South Amboy YMCA

SOUTH AMBOY — If students at Cardinal McCarrick High School in the city want to increase enrollment and receive more funding, Gov. Chris Christie said they need to contact Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver because she’s the one blocking approval of the Opportunity Scholarship Act. (more…)

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Chris Christie Pushes For More Education Reform

Governor Christie stopped at Haddonfield High School this afternoon, to praise the school’s better than average scholastic achievement and graduation rates.

“Haddonfield is an example,” said the Governor, “of what we’re trying to do with education across the state- pairing increased resources for our schools with real reforms to transform education and to put students first.” (more…)

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Opportunity ends

The parents of children in Camden and several other cities in New Jersey can thank Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver, D-Essex, for keeping their children trapped in failing schools for yet another year.

The Opportunity Scholarship Act would have created a corporate scholarship tax credit program for students from low-income families in failing school districts to attend public or private schools of their parents’ choice.

The bill had strong bipartisan support and more than enough votes to pass in both the Assembly and the Senate, which is why Oliver obstinately refused to post the bill for a vote.

Another legislative session ends. Another opportunity for urban kids to succeed dies.

What constituency are you protecting, Mrs. Oliver? The teachers’ unions? The entrenched educational bureaucracy? It certainly isn’t poor, minority children of this state desperately in need of access to a quality education.

TRACYE MCARDLE

Voorhees

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AFC Decries New Jersey Legislature’s Failure to Pass Opportunity Scholarship Act

TRENTON, N.J., June 29, 2012 — Despite strong bipartisan support Speaker Sheila Oliver prevents passage

TRENTON, N.J., June 29, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/– The American Federation for Children—the nation’s voice for school choice—today criticized New Jersey Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver for refusing to schedule a vote on the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA), preventing thousands of New Jersey children from low-income families from escaping the state’s worst-performing schools. (more…)

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Chairman Dr. Therman Evans Responds to Florio Op Ed

It was with great interest that I read Governor Florio’s opinion regarding the effort of many in this state to pass the Opportunity Scholarship Act, which will save thousands of our most vulnerable children languishing in failing urban schools by providing them with scholarship funds to attend eligible, participating, charter, private and religious schools of their choice. (more…)

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