New Jersey bill to help with private school tuition via tax credits and a scholarship fund

Under the proposed legislation, donations to a state-chosen scholarship fund for private school students would get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit

Tashbar boys’ school in Lakewood, New Jersey. Photo: Shtetl

Mar 20, 2024 6:45 PM


A new bill in the New Jersey state legislature would offer a full tax credit for donations made to a state-chosen scholarship fund for private school students. If passed, this would go a long way toward aiding parents who pay private school tuition — which includes virtually all Haredi parents of school-age children — side-stepping the fraught debate over government-funded school vouchers.

The state’s teachers union is opposed to the legislation. 

The Teach Coalition, an arm of the Orthodox Union, was among the leading advocates for drafting the legislation. The bill is also being promoted by Agudath Israel, a Haredi advocacy group, and United Education of New Jersey, a Lakewood organization that advocates for private school funding.

Scholarship awards would be limited to low- and middle-income families, according to Teach NJ, which is part of Teach Coalition.

The bill was sponsored entirely by Democrats. In the Senate, the bill’s prime sponsors were senators Vin Gopal and Joseph Lagana. In the Assembly, they were assemblymembers Lisa Swain, Reginald Atkins, and Gary Schaer, whose district includes an Orthodox Jewish community in Passaic. 

Sponsors of the bill did not respond to Shtetl’s inquiry about whether schools receiving scholarship aid due to this legislation would have to meet New Jersey’s requirement for nonpublic schools to offer a curriculum “equivalent” to that of public schools.

Haredi assemblymember Avi Schnall is a cosponsor of the bill. While Schnall was not a prime sponsor, a statement from Agudah gave him significant credit for it. “Agudath Israel recognizes the tireless efforts of New Jersey Assemblyman Avi Schnall (D-Lakewood) who has invested countless hours in bringing this bill to its current form,” Rabbi Shlomo Schorr said.

Schnall, who was elected in 2023 to serve the largely Haredi community in Lakewood, is the former director of Agudah’s New Jersey office. In an interview with the Haredi news outlet Hamodia, Schnall said that he would continue to work for Agudah even after he took office.

According to data from the Teach Coalition, over 61,000 students were enrolled in Jewish day schools in New Jersey in 2022, comprising nearly 40% of private school students in the state. The vast majority of these students live in the Lakewood area.

The New Jersey government already provides some funding toward private schools, which goes toward hiring math and science teachers and providing school bus service and free school meals for some students.

However, some education advocates believe the state’s private schools already receive enough public funding.

Deborah Cornavaca, the director of legislative affairs at the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s teachers’ union, told Shtetl she opposed the legislation, citing, among other things, the public funding private schools already get. “We do not believe that it is appropriate right now to talk about diverting more state dollars away during a budget cycle where we’re hearing numbers are very tight in so many public school districts,” Cornavaca said.

Several attempts to obtain the full language of the bill from its sponsors were unsuccessful. A senior Agudah representative told Shtetl he didn’t have the bill’s language, but that it will likely become available next week. In the meantime, Teach NJ is already urging parents to email New Jersey legislators to support the legislation. 

In 2022, the Teach Coalition estimated that in the 2018-2019 school year, nonpublic schools “save[d]” their local school districts more than $2.7 billion. Officials at the teachers union argued this was faulty logic. “If I buy my books at Barnes and Noble, which might save a few cents at the library, it doesn’t give me the right to send a bill to the library,” said Steve Baker, the union’s communications director.

Efforts to subsidize private school tuition have been successful in several states around the country, especially ones governed by Republicans. In New York, the Teach Coalition has also advocated for government-funded private school vouchers, but the idea hasn’t gained traction in Albany.

In 2022, the New York Times reported that Hasidic boys’ schools in Brooklyn had collected over $1 billion in government funding over the prior four years – despite, in many cases, offering inadequate secular education.

Read more in Shtetl:

New York City Council members push for private school vouchers

Enrollment has boomed in New York Haredi schools – especially Hasidic ones, report finds