Crowd rallies for school vouchers in New Jersey

Supporters of a school voucher program rallied outside the New Jersey Statehouse Thursday, urging lawmakers to approve the measure in the final weeks of the legislative session.

As the crowd chanted, “act now,” hundreds of students from around the state listened to speakers praise the Opportunity Scholarship Act and press for its passage.

The measure would provide tax credits for companies that fund scholarships for students in poor-performing public schools to switch to private and parochial schools.

“Every day that goes by in which these children are trapped in chronically failing schools is an opportunity lost to build a better future for themselves and to strengthen the communities around them,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, a main sponsor of the bill.

Opponents of the voucher plan, which would be launched in just a few schools around the state as a pilot program, say it would undercut initiatives to improve public education.

Monsignor Michael Doyle of Camden, however, said the Catholic school system is depending on some kind of voucher plan.

“The Catholic school system has terrible burdens. It can’t make it. Parents can’t afford it and so you’re in a situation where that wonderful system that has done so much for this country is dying,” Doyle said. “So if you got a bit of lift of life to that, then it would do very good.”

The Rev. Reginald Jackson, the executive director of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey, also spoke in favor of the voucher program. He said it would be a much-needed alternative for students in poor performing public schools.

“Since the Whitman administration, every year except one, we have increased funding for these schools. The return on those dollars has been poor,” Jackson said. “You have to reform the public schools because that’s where most of our children are going to always go. But at the same time, low-income parents and children have to have options.”

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