The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU), the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, applauded the New Jersey Senate Committee on Education for its passage today of a special education bill (S.1929) that would increase fairness and equality for families with children who require a special education environment. The bill was passed with a vote of three to zero and two abstentions.
The bill will be considered for a vote in both New Jersey legislative houses next week.
The current New Jersey special education law allows local school districts to assign special needs students to an out-of-district school if necessary, even if the school is nonpublic—but bars school districts from making such an arrangement with any parochial school.
Crafted by OU Advocacy-NJ and sponsored by Senators Loretta Weinberg and Jennifer Beck, S. 1929 will eliminate this discriminatory policy and give school districts the option of assigning a special education student to an accredited religious nonpublic school, on the same terms as currently allowed for any other nonpublic school.
S.1929 is carefully crafted to ensure it operates within appropriate constitutional boundaries. The funding the religious schools would receive can only be used for nonsectarian programs and services and will be paid to the schools after receiving an itemized bill for the services rendered.
Additional co-sponsors of the Senate bill include Senators Robert Singer, Richard Codey, Robert Gordon, Raymond Lesniak, Joseph Kyrillos, Jr., and Paul Sarlo.
“This bill opens more doors for educational opportunities for special needs students, allowing qualified religious schools to provide services to religious students and their families, while ensuring that safeguards are in place to protect public resources,” said Senator Weinberg.
Senator Beck said, “This bill is about offering options to families of special needs students. We shouldn’t overly burden families if their public schools do not offer the necessary programs. It only makes sense to utilize any means possible to ensure that our children are getting the best education possible. This outside-the-box thinking could lead to new opportunities and possible cost savings.”
In his testimony before the Senate Education Committee, OU Executive Director for Public Policy Nathan Diament stated, “Students who require special education services deserve educational opportunity in an environment that best suits their needs. New Jersey has commendably realized that some students must be afforded their opportunities outside the public school system. Students whose needs will be best served in parochial schools deserve the same opportunity and fair treatment.”
Josh Pruzansky, OU Advocacy-NJ director of political affairs, said, “This bill is supported by a group of bipartisan legislators in both houses of the New Jersey legislature, serving children who are nonpartisan. For many children with special needs, the difference between a future of success or of failure lies in a familiar environment and the bricks of the building they call school. We are only asking for fairness and for one more option for families and school districts.”
A companion bill (A.2869) bill, sponsored by Assemblywomen Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Amy Handlin, and Assemblymen Peter Barnes and Gary Schaer, passed the New Jersey Assembly Education Committee by a 9-0 margin, with one abstention, in March. That bill was co-sponsored by Assemblymen Sean Kean, Thomas Giblin, John McKeon, Timothy Eustace, Gordon Johnson and David Rible, and Assemblywomen Donna Simon, Mary Pat Angelini, Connie Wagner, Marlene Caride, BettyLou DeCroce, Mila Jasey and Caroline Casagrande.
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The Orthodox Union is the nation's largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization; the OU Advocacy Center, formerly the Institute for Public Affairs, is the non-partisan public policy arm of the OU and leads its advocacy efforts in Washington, DC and state capitals.
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