Opportunity Scholarship Act Highlights

Funding Mechanism

Under the pilot program, the Department of Treasury will provide tax credits to entities that contribute to scholarships for low-income children. The total aggregate tax contribution of the participating corporations cannot exceed $360 million over the five year period: $24 million in the first fiscal year of the program, $48 million in year two, $72 million in year three, $96 million in year four and $120 million in year five.

Scholarship Organizations

An Opportunity Scholarship Board will select one qualified, tax-exempt Scholarship Organization in each of the north, central and southern regions of the state to administer the scholarship funds, one of which will be designated as the Lead Scholarship Organization.

No more than 25 percent of a scholarship organization’s scholarship allocation in any school year can be used to provide scholarships to low-income students who are enrolled in non-public schools, unless unallocated scholarship funds remain unused by the scholarship organization in the given school year.

Scholarship Awards

The scholarship organizations will distribute individual scholarships for grades K-8 that are the greater of $6,000 or 40 percent of the prior school year’s actual average comparable cost per pupil; or, for grades 9-12, the greater of $9,000 or 59 percent of the prior school year’s actual average comparable cost per pupil.

Designation of failing schools

A “chronically failing” school means one in which more than 40 percent of students failed to reach proficiency in both language arts and mathematics in each of the prior two school years as measured by the administration of the state assessment test; or, one in which more than 65 percent of students failed to reach proficiency in either language arts or mathematics in each of the prior two school years. The chronically failing schools are found in 12 New Jersey counties, and include 33 high schools, 94 middle schools and 78 elementary schools. The municipalities with double digit chronically failing schools are Newark (42), Paterson (25), Camden (24) and Trenton (18).

Eligibility of students and families

Students from households with an income that does not exceed 2.5 times the official federal poverty level based on family size for the school year proceeding the school year for which the scholarship is to be awarded. For a family of four, this would be $55,125.

Innovation Fund to help chronically failing schools

The bill provides that the amount of the per-pupil state-aid that would have been paid to the school district for students who participate in the program, less the amount of the actual scholarships awarded to students, will be dedicated to an Educational Innovation fund. Under the direction of the state Commissioner of Education, the Innovation Fund will award competitive grants to chronically failing schools to help them adopt innovative educational practices with the objective of improving student performance in the failing schools. Applications for the grants will be made by the superintendent of the district in which the failing school is located.

Editor’s note: To contact legislators to express support for the Opportunity Scholarship Act, see www.WeCanDoBetter-nj.org. To join the New Jersey Catholic Conference’s Action Network see www.njcathconf.com. Click on “Faith in Action” and “Join our Action Network.”

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