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New Jersey Lawmakers Introduce ESA, School Choice Bill to Circumvent Mandates

The legislation would establish grants that families can use to send their child to a school of their choice

New Jersey State lawmakers have introduced legislation that would establish education savings accounts for students whose school districts mandate face masks or do not offer full-time, in-person instruction.

The ESA program, sponsored by Senator Michael Testa, Jr. (R), would allow families to pay for tuition, fees and textbooks at private, charter or parochial schools, along with tutoring, costs for standardized testing, special education programs, and transportation to and from school.

Testa’s proposed legislation (S2746) was introduced Jun 2, the same day a nearly identical bill (A4146) was introduced into the New Jersey State Assembly by Assemblywoman Beth Sawyer (R). 

The twin pieces of legislation are in line with national trends regarding ESA accounts for students, as 78 percent of parents support ESAs compared to other types of educational policies, according to a 2021 poll from Ed Choice, a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational freedom organization.

A child is eligible for the program if they have been enrolled in a state public school for at least 100 consecutive days prior to the parent or guardian entering into the ESA program, which happens through an agreement with the State Treasurer.

Under the ESA program, students will receive funding equal to the weighted base per pupil amount attributable to the child based on the school district where the child resides. The agreement between the parent or guardian and State Treasurer is only for one school year, but may be renewed the following year, as long as the student is eligible to enroll in a public school.

Any unused funds remaining in a student’s ESA at the end of a school year may be rolled over to the following year. If the family chooses not to renew the agreement, any unused funds would revert back to the State Treasury.

Parents across the nation have been seeking alternatives to public schools in the wake of mandatory mask and vaccine policies enacted in response to the pandemic. Forty-six percent of parents believe forced mask policies have damaged their child’s social learning and interactions, according to a March 2022 poll conducted by Politico.

“About half of parents whose schools have discontinued mask requirements since the start of the school year believe that wearing masks at school hurt their children’s social learning and interactions (54%), mental and emotional health (49%), and general schooling experience (48%), while 45% think it hurt their children’s education,” the polling data showed.

If passed, the laws will force state schools to become more competitive, as parents will have additional options in terms of where to send their children for education.

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