ASSEMBLY, No. 2443

 

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

 

INTRODUCED OCTOBER 21, 1996

 

 

By Assemblyman GARRETT

 

 

An Act establishing a tuition voucher pilot program and making an appropriation.

 

    Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

 

    1. The Legislature finds and declares that:

    a. School tuition vouchers may serve as a vehicle for education reform by providing all parents with the ability to select the school and education program which best suits their children's individual needs. Increasing parental involvement and satisfaction with their children's educational program and environment will have a positive effect on the education of those children. In addition, school choice will provide an incentive to all schools, both public and private, to improve their educational programs and services and become more efficient and innovative; and

    b. In order to responsibly assess the merits of tuition vouchers, a limited pilot program should be established which incorporates adequate controls and is subject to meaningful evaluation.

 

    2. For the purposes of this act, unless the context clearly requires a different meaning:

    "Eligible school district" means any school district which has been approved by the Commissioner of Education to participate in the pilot program.

    "Parental Information Center" means an office in each eligible school district which disseminates and receives tuition vouchers and provides interested parents with information describing educational options available for their children under this act.

    "Participating nonpublic school" means a nonpublic elementary or secondary school which:

    a. elects to receive voucher pupils;

    b. charges tuition or fees for its services;

    c. was established before September 1995;

    d. is located within the same county as the eligible school district;

    e. has staff and students who are currently designated by the Department of Education as eligible to receive publicly funded services;

    f. complies with all State and federal standards applicable to nonpublic schools; and

    g. complies with all other requirements imposed by this act.

    "Participating public school" means any public school within the same county as an eligible school district, which elects to receive voucher pupils pursuant to N.J.S. 18A:38-3. "Participating public school" also means any public school within the eligible school district which has been designated by the eligible school district to participate in the pilot program pursuant to procedures established by the eligible school district.

 

    3. The Commissioner of Education shall establish a tuition voucher pilot program in each eligible school district beginning in the first full school year following the effective date of this act. The pilot program shall allow children residing in an eligible school district to attend a participating nonpublic school or a participating public school and have the tuition paid, in full or in part, with a school tuition voucher. The tuition voucher redemption shall be based solely on the parent's or guardian's decision to enroll the child in a nonpublic or public participating school.

 

    4. a. The municipal governing body in a Type I school district, the local board of education in a Type II school district, or the State district superintendent in a State-operated school district shall file an application with the Department of Education in order to participate in the pilot program. The commissioner shall require each application to include eligibility criteria for tuition voucher redemption which shall take into account the financial ability of the pupil's family to meet the cost of tuition at the nonpublic or public participating school.

    b. There shall be a maximum of one eligible school district per county. The commissioner shall appoint an eligibility review panel to consider applications and make recommendations to him for the final decision. The panel shall base its recommendations on, but not be limited to, the following criteria:

    (1) merit as a pilot site;

    (2) net cost to the district or State;

    (3) establishment of a representative sample of districts; and

    (4) practical capacity of the participating schools.

      Prior to making a final recommendation to the commissioner on an application, the panel may suggest that the district modify the application.

    c. During the pilot program, the commissioner may terminate the pilot program in an eligible school district at the end of any school year, at the request of the entity that applied to participate in the pilot program pursuant to this section and upon recommendation of the eligibility review panel.

 

    5. a. In each year of the pilot program, parents and guardians of children residing in an eligible school district, in the grade levels and schools determined by the commissioner pursuant to the district's application and the eligibility panel's review, shall be provided tuition vouchers by the district's Parental Information Center.

     b. The amount of the tuition voucher in each eligible school district shall be no more than $2,500 for pupils in grades kindergarten through 8 and $3,500 for pupils in grades 9 through 12. However, the tuition voucher given to the parent or guardian of a pupil pursuant to this section shall not exceed the tuition rate established by the participating school for the year of attendance.

      c. The parent or guardian shall submit, by June 1 of the preceding school year or such other date as the commissioner deems appropriate, the tuition voucher along with evidence that the pupil is enrolled in a participating school to the Parental Information Center in the eligible school district, which shall forward it to the Department of Education. Except as provided in subsection d. of this section, the tuition voucher shall be redeemed through checks from the department made payable to the parent or guardian. The department shall issue an initial check in an amount equal to one-fifth of the voucher amount on September 1. An additional check equal to one-fifth of the tuition voucher amount shall be forwarded to the parent or guardian on the fifteenth day of October, December, February and April upon proof of tuition payment and continued attendance. If a voucher pupil ceases to attend the participating school, the parent or guardian shall immediately notify the Parental Information Center and all further installment payments shall be withheld. The parent or guardian shall be responsible for full payment of tuition. For economically disadvantaged voucher pupils attending the participating school, the participating school may waive the amount of tuition which exceeds the tuition voucher.

    d. If a tuition voucher is redeemed in order to attend a public school within the eligible school district, the department shall not issue a check to the parent or guardian and no further tuition shall be required for attendance. If a tuition voucher is redeemed in order to attend a participating public school outside of the district, the department shall not issue a check to the parent or guardian but shall credit the tuition voucher amount to the participating school on behalf of the pupil, and the parent or guardian shall be responsible for the difference in tuition.

    e. If a parent or guardian fails to choose a school pursuant to this section, the child shall be enrolled in the public school of the district of residence.

    f. Pupils using a tuition voucher to attend a nonpublic school or public school outside of a eligible school district shall not be included in the resident enrollment of the eligible school district for the school year of transfer and each school year thereafter during which the pupil is attending the nonpublic school or the public school outside of the eligible school district. The commissioner shall make the necessary adjustments to the resident enrollment and State aid entitlement of the eligible school district in order to account for voucher pupils attending a participating school under this act.

    g. The parent or guardian shall provide the commissioner with the information necessary to conduct the evaluation and reporting required pursuant to the provisions of this act, including requesting and making available the voucher pupil's records such as those concerning attendance and academic achievement. If the parent or guardian refuses to provide the information, the department is authorized to prohibit further participation in the pilot program by the parent or guardian.

    h. Each Parental Information Center shall make reasonable efforts to notify the public of all requirements necessary for participation in the pilot program established pursuant to this act.

 

    6. Funds provided to a parent or guardian pursuant to this act shall not be considered income to the recipient for State income tax purposes.

 

    7. The commissioner is authorized to take such steps as may be necessary to recapture from the parent or guardian of a voucher pupil any funds provided under this act which are not used to pay tuition at the participating school, plus a penalty equal to two times the amount of the misapplied funds. The commissioner is authorized to institute proceedings under "the penalty enforcement law," N.J.S. 2A:58-1 et seq., in order to recapture the funds not expended in accordance with this act plus the amount of any penalty.

 

    8. During the pilot program the commissioner shall not impose any additional requirements beyond those contained in this act upon participating nonpublic schools unless those requirements also are imposed upon nonparticipating nonpublic schools under State or federal law.

 

    9. Transportation shall be provided to voucher pupils attending a participating nonpublic school or a public school outside of the eligible school district pursuant to the provisions of N.J.S. 18A:39-1 applicable to nonpublic school transportation.

 

    10. a. An evaluation shall be conducted to determine the effectiveness of the pilot program. The evaluation shall focus upon attendance rates, dropout and graduation rates, parental and student satisfaction, parental involvement, and student academic achievement. Statistics on the socioeconomic status of voucher recipients shall also be kept for academic purposes. The evaluation, and accumulation of data, shall be performed by the commissioner, with the assistance of an evaluation and research advisory committee appointed by the commissioner.

        b. On or before January 1st of each year, the commissioner shall make a status report to the Governor and the Legislature on the evaluation of the pilot program.

       c. The commissioner shall recommend to the Governor and the Legislature by January 1 of the last school year of the pilot program, whether the tuition voucher pilot program should be continued, expanded, modified or terminated.

 

    11. There is appropriated from the General Fund the sum of $5,500,000 to the Department of Education to effectuate the purposes of this act. This amount shall be in addition to any State aid to which a school district may be entitled pursuant to P.L.1990, c.52 (C.18A:7D-1 et al.) or any other law. The Department of Education shall seek other sources of public funding and may accept private contributions. The applicant district or municipality is authorized to contribute local funds to supplement the pilot program in the district.

 

    12. This act shall take effect immediately and shall expire on June 30th of the fifth full school year following enactment.

 

 

STATEMENT

 

    This bill establishes a five-year tuition voucher pilot program that will allow children residing in an eligible school district to attend a participating nonpublic school or a participating public school and have the tuition paid, in full or in part, with a school tuition voucher.     Pursuant to the bill, the municipal governing body in a Type I school district, the local board of education in a Type II school district, or the State district superintendent in a State-operated school district will file applications with the Department of Education in order to participate in the pilot program as an eligible school district. There will be a maximum of one eligible school district per county. An eligibility review panel, appointed by the Commissioner of Education, will consider applications and make recommendations to the commissioner for final decision.

    The bill provides that a pupil who is in a grade level and school within an eligible school district that has been determined by the commissioner as eligible to participate in the pilot program, will be able to choose to attend either a participating nonpublic school or a participating public school. A participating nonpublic school will be located in the same county as the eligible school district. A participating public school is defined as a public school that elects to receive vouchers and is located in the same county as the eligible school district or a public school within the eligible school district which has been designated by the eligible school district to participate pursuant to procedures established by the eligible school district. The vouchers will be provided to the parents or guardians of the pupils by the eligible school district's Parental Information Center, one of which will be located in each eligible school district. The amount of the tuition voucher will be no more than $2,500 for pupils in grades kindergarten through 8 and $3,500 for pupils in grades 9 through 12, however, in no case will the voucher exceed the tuition rate established by the participating school.

    The parent or guardian will submit the voucher along with evidence that the pupil is enrolled in a participating school to the Parental Information Center in the eligible school district, which will forward it to the department. In the case of a pupil attending a participating nonpublic school, the voucher will be redeemed through checks from the department to the parent or guardian. The department will issue five checks, each equal to one-fifth of the voucher amount, in September, October, December, February and April of the school year, upon proof of tuition payment and continued attendance.

    If a voucher is redeemed in order to attend a public school within the eligible school district, the department will not issue a check to the parent or guardian and no further tuition will be required for attendance. If a voucher is redeemed in order to attend a participating public school outside of the district, the department will not issue a check to the parent or guardian but will credit the voucher amount to the participating school on behalf of the pupil, and the parent or guardian will be responsible for the difference in tuition.

    Pupils using a tuition voucher to attend a nonpublic school or public school outside of a eligible school district will not be included in the resident enrollment of the eligible school district for the school year of transfer and each school year thereafter during which the pupil is attending the nonpublic school or the public school outside of the eligible school district. The commissioner will adjust the resident enrollment and State aid entitlement of the eligible school district in order to account for pupils attending a participating school.

    The bill provides for an evaluation of the pilot program to determine its effectiveness, performed by the commissioner with the assistance of an evaluation and research advisory committee appointed by him. The evaluation will focus on attendance rates, dropout and graduation rates, parental and student satisfaction, parental involvement, and student academic achievement. On or before January 1st of each year, the commissioner will make a status report to the Governor and the Legislature on the evaluation. The commissioner will also recommend to the Governor and the Legislature by January 1 of the last school year of the pilot program, whether the tuition voucher pilot program should be continued, expanded, modified or terminated.

    The bill provides a $5.5 million appropriation to the Department of Education to effectuate the purposes of the bill. The department is also required to seek other sources of public funding and is permitted to accept private contributions.

    The bill would become effective immediately and expire on June 30th of the fifth full school year following enactment.

    This bill is the product of the Governor's Advisory Panel on School Vouchers, which submitted its proposed legislation to implement a tuition school voucher pilot program in January, 1996.

 

 

                             

 

Establishes a five-year tuition voucher pilot program and appropriates $5.5 million.