The Urban Enterprise Zone Jobs Scholarship Act (A-2897; S-1607) is a five-year pilot program that would allow eligible lowincome children in Camden, Elizabeth, Jersey City, Lakewood, Newark, Orange, Paterson and Trenton to receive scholarships to attend a public or non-public school. The program is paid for by tax credits for contributions on state corporate business tax filings, which would bring $24 million to participating public and private schools in the first year of the pilot program, in an attempt to improve the education for underserved urban students.
The Senate version of the bill remains frozen in a budget committee, after passing through the economic growth committee last May. The bill so far has not been scheduled for introduction in the Assembly. Last May Most Rev. Edgar M. da Cunha, Auxiliary Bishop of Newark, addressed legislators and spoke in favor of the bill, which is opposed by the New Jersey Education Association (see The Catholic Advocate, May 21, 2008).
"This bill would enable the students to receive the quality education that is their right," Bishop Donato declared last month during a press conference. Bishop Donato, who also serves as the regional bishop for Hudson County, represented the Catholic bishops of NJ at the hearing.
"Catholic education in New Jersey has provided quality education, saving the state millions of dollars, Bishop Donato said. "This bill will allow our children, especially those in the urban areas and who are minorities, to receive a good education."
After the press conference, Bishop Donato noted the bill has the potential to save local school districts millions of dollars. Usually, whenever Catholic schools close, local school taxes increase because the students from closed Catholic schools migrate to public schools.
In emphasizing the quality of Catholic schools, Bishop Donato indicated that the primary reason for students leaving Catholic schools is that their parents cannot afford the tuition, even though the parents may be working two or even three jobs.
Unlike parents in more affluent communities, who might be able to move to a school district with better schools or perhaps be able to afford to send their children to private schools, the typical parent of a Catholic school student in an urban area does not have the money to move or to send their children to private schools.
The bottom line, according to the bishop, is that passage of the Urban Enterprise Zone Jobs Scholarship Act (A-2897; S-1607) would decrease the taxpayer burden for the public school system, while at the same time providing help to keep Catholic schools open and offering an excellent educational alternative to students.
Bishop Donato noted that more than 80 percent of New Jersey Catholic children attend public schools; consequently, the Church supports the improvement and success of all public schools. "We made a strong plea, and we are hopeful this bill will pass," he said.
Rev. Reginald T. Jackson, executive director of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey, was the primary speaker at the press conference. In strong terms, he condemned the New Jersey educational system, particularly as it is relates to urban minorities.
"The minority community demands that our leaders act on principle, not on expediency," Rev. Jackson said. "We must do what is best for our children."
Also addressing the press conference was Martin Perez, president of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, who told those assembled that the minority community would no longer support politicians who did not support quality education for minority children.
(Editor's note: Paula Glover is the photo and online editor for The Monitor, the newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton.)