Christie’s Budget Calls for School Voucher Pilot in New Jersey

The new budget proposal for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie continues to push his education reform agenda with revived funding for school vouchers, NJ.com reports.

The last time Christie touted the pilot program that would see students receive state-funded scholarships to enroll in private and parochial schools, the effort came to nothing. Now, the governor is hoping to ride the wave of his post-hurricane Sandy popularity to make the pilot a reality.

The pilot program would be initially funded with $2 million and open to roughly 200 kids currently enrolled in failing public schools. Families that qualify would receive a voucher that can be used to enroll in any school that accepts vouchers, including private and parochial, as well as different public school outside of the district.

In announcing the program, Christie predicted that getting the pilot off the ground would involve a fight — and he isn’t wrong. The Education Law Center has already weighed to say that Christie doesn’t have the power to affect such changes via the budget. If the pilot program is to exist, it must be created by the Legislature via a separate bill.

“The governor’s attempt to use the budget bill, which is strictly limited to appropriations, to put in place a voucher pilot program that has not gained the support of legislators over the last several years is an illegal end run ,” said ELC Executive Director David Sciarra. “This proposal should be dead on arrival.”

Others said the matter may not be so clear-cut, however, and that the proposal could be enacted through the budget appropriations bill, without separate legislation.

The Governor’s budget contains good news for school districts around the state in the form of $97.3 million increase in school funding. More than half of the state’s 600 school districts will see an increase in their budget, with none suffering a cut from last year. This is good bit of turnaround for districts that have been suffering after Christie cut more than $1 billion from the education budget in 2010.

Christie proposed a modest increase in parts of the higher education budget, including a $17 million increase in Tuition Aid Grant funding to help low-income students pay for college. The state’s private four-year colleges will also get a $1 million increase in funding under the governor’s proposal. But Christie did not propose any large increases for the rest of the state’s colleges and universities, noting they are getting $1.6 billion in state and private funds for building projects.