By Nate Hennagin

On February 3, the New Jersey Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee will hold a hearing to consider A2810, a backdoor voucher program. In an 8-5 vote last week, the Senate version of this bill, S1872, passed the Budget and Appropriations Committee to go to the Senate floor.

Both bills would create a tuition tax credit program that provides vouchers to New Jersey schoolchildren to attend private school. Proponents of these bills claim that this measure would be "budget-neutral" or even help the state budget. Under this backdoor voucher program, however, the state would grant a 100% tax credit to corporations that donate money for vouchers. And the latest version of S1872 would have the state forgo over $1 billion over five years, which doesn't even account for the cost to administer the program. In these difficult economic times, this is fiscally irresponsible.

This voucher program would not improve student education. A multitude of studies have been done on voucher programs similar to this one in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and the District of Columbia that show voucher programs have no significant effect on academic achievement. It is unlikely that this program would have a different result.

These funds would also be sent to private and parochial schools that integrate religion throughout their curriculum. One of the most revered principles of American religious liberty is that the government should not compel any citizen to provide funds to support a religion with which he or she disagrees, or even one with which he or she does agree. By using funds that would otherwise be going to all-inclusive public schools to support private religious schools that promote a particular ideology, this principle would be severely undermined.

True, many have pointed out that New Jersey is second only to New York in per-pupil funding, saying that simply throwing money at public schools has not worked. However, this program would throw that same money at private schools that are even less accountable and expect a different result. In order to truly fix the education system, it is in the best interest of the state to find new ways to improve the public education system, rather than force the public schools to do more with less. As New Jersey Education Association President Barbara Keshishian said, "The losers are students, who will have to choose between under-funded public schools and unaccountable private schools." Many of these private schools are failing on their own, leading some to refer to this legislation as a "private school bailout."

If you are a resident of New Jersey, please take a minute to write your representatives today to urge them to oppose this harmful voucher program!