New Jersey legislators scrap bill that would’ve helped fund private school tuition

The bill faced opposition from groups that advocate for public schools and civil liberties.

Skver Yeshiva of Lakewood. Credit: Shtetl

Jun 18, 2024 2:44 PM


New Jersey legislators scrapped a bill last week that would’ve helped fund private school tuition, according to NJ Spotlight News.

Championed by the Orthodox Union’s Teach Coalition, the bill would have given tax credits to people who donate money to a scholarship fund that provided tuition assistance to low- and middle-income families whose children attend private schools.

According to Teach Coalition data, nearly 40% of private school students in the state attended Jewish schools as of 2022, mostly in the Haredi enclave of Lakewood.

But the bill faced opposition from groups that feared it would divert resources from already-struggling public schools toward schools that are not obligated to comply with the same laws public schools must follow.

In an open letter to governor Phil Murphy and other state leaders, signed by over 50 organizations, opponents explained their reasoning, citing problems that they say resulted when other states in the U.S. adopted similar legislation.

“New Jersey should not send hundreds of millions of dollars to schools that can openly discriminate based on religion, disability, LGBTQ+ status, and any other student or family characteristic,” the letter said. Among the signatories were the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the American Federation of Teachers.

"The private schools that would be funded with taxpayer dollars under this voucher program are not subject to the quality and accountability standards that are legally required in public schools," the letter continued.

New Jersey law requires nonpublic school children to “receive instruction equivalent to that provided in the public schools,” but the state doesn’t currently actively enforce specific standards as New York recently set out to do after complaints from Yeshiva graduates.

In response to the opposition, the bill’s sponsors initially made changes to the bill, including reducing the total amount of tax credits allowed per year from $250 million to $37.5 million.

Still, the bill’s prime sponsors, senator Vin Gopal and assemblymember Lisa Swain — both Democrats — withdrew the bill entirely last week.

“Everyone was opposed to it. It was meant to drive a discussion and a conversation and that wasn’t happening,” Gopal told NJ Spotlight. “Folks felt it was a really slippery slope and I think it’s harmful to have this discussion while there’s any type of legislation out there.”

“This bill sparked an important dialogue on how best to support all students in our state and should only continue when a diverse group of voices are heard and represented at the table,” Swain told the outlet.

Along with the Teach Coalition, another Orthodox organization, Agudath Israel of America, also supported the bill, as did a Lakewood-based organization called United Education of New Jersey that advocates for the government to fund private schools. Neither Teach Coalition, nor Agudah, nor United Education of New Jersey immediately responded to emails requesting comment.

Assembly member Avi Schnall, a Democrat who represents Lakewood and cosponsored the legislation, did not immediately respond to Shtetl’s request for comment.

Read more in Shtetl:
New Jersey bill to help with private school tuition via tax credits and a scholarship fund
What’s in the investigations of 18 Haredi schools found to be providing inadequate secular education
What it takes to attend a Haredi school: 11 rules families must follow in the new school year