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NJBIA puts weight behind Opportunity Scholarship Act

By , - Last modified: January 20, 2011 at 6:53 PM

Corporations would receive tax credits in exchange for providing funding for low-income students to leave failing schools, under a bill receiving strong support from the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.

The Opportunity Scholarship Act would establish a pilot program that would phase in funding over five years, from $24 million in the first year to $120 million in the fifth year. There is no limit to the amount corporations can contribute.

Children would be eligible if they live in households within 250 percent of the federal poverty level, and attend schools where less than 60 percent of students pass both math and language arts state assessments, or less than 35 percent pass in either area.

Three nonprofit organizations — in the northern, central and southern regions of the state — would be selected to administer the funds.

Schools that accept students in the program must use a lottery to award the funding if more students apply than there are openings. Districts would lose state funding for every student who receives the funding, with some of the money used to fund competitive grants for new programs at failing schools.

NJBIA President Philip Kirschner said the bill would help prepare students for future work. He was scheduled to speak at a hearing on the bill Thursday.

“Students who get a quality education, and are prepared to succeed in college or the work force, are far more likely to have financial success than those who do not get a quality education,” Kirschner said in a statement.

He also said businesses should have an opportunity to help students get a quality education.

“Businesses understand that the education students receive today will determine the quality of their work force tomorrow,” Kirschner said. “As it is, many businesses are disappointed in the skills of entry-level workers.”

“People do not usually associate education issues with business, but the two are closely linked,” Kirschner said.  “A quality education system is a key component of a good business climate.”

Jerry Cantrell, president of the New Jersey Taxpayers Alliance, said the bill would be a good deal for taxpayers, and would add competitiveness in education.

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hadn’t voted on the bill by 1:40 p.m. on Thursday.

E-mail Andrew Kitchenman at akitchenman@njbiz.com

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