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New Jersey soon may charge for summer school

Local school districts in New Jersey would be allowed to charge for remedial summer classes under a bill suggested by Glassboro school officials.

Local school districts in New Jersey would be allowed to charge for remedial summer classes under a bill suggested by Glassboro school officials.

The proposal, approved by both houses of the legislature, aims to provide help to districts struggling to provide services in a tough economic time. State and federal aid to New Jersey districts has been cut $819 million this year.

"The district doesn't have to provide these classes, but if we are going to, then we need to cover the costs," said Glassboro Superintendent Mark Silverstein.

Many districts have already cut summer school programs, so hard decisions - such as allowing fees - must be made, said one bill sponsor, Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D., Hudson).

"It's tough times. It's something that I never thought I would be arguing for," Prieto said. "But what's the alternative? Not having a place where the kids who fail can go? I think you've got to take the lesser of the two evils."

The bill, which would not compel districts to charge fees, is awaiting Gov. Christie's signature. A spokesman for the governor declined to comment.

Silverstein said Glassboro would begin charging next summer if the law were enacted.

"When we were initially going to charge [this summer] and we realized that we couldn't, parents were supportive" of the fee, he said. "It's incentive to pass the course. Students were not happy, as I expected."

North Bergen has already begun charging for summer classes, with the intent to reimburse families if the bill is not signed.

"If we believed that this bill wasn't going to become law, I think there's a chance we would have canceled summer school," said Sen. Nicholas Sacco, a bill sponsor and also the assistant superintendent in the North Bergen district. Sacco said North Bergen is one of only two districts in Hudson County that still has summer school programs.

Fees would be determined at the local level.

"The municipality of North Bergen is going to charge $100 per pupil," said Prieto. "If you receive reduced lunch, you get [summer schooling] at 75 percent" of the fee, "free lunch 50 percent, below the federal poverty line it's free."

Anny Perez, 41, of North Bergen, is paying $200 for her daughter to attend two remedial classes.

"To me ... it was not a problem to spend for my kid's education, not because I have the money, but because when it comes to your child's education, I don't think money is an issue," she said.

Assemblywoman Celeste Riley (D., Gloucester), a teacher and bill sponsor, said she saw added value in the fees.

"If a parent had to pay for a course, maybe they're going to say, 'Look, I'm paying for this. You better study, you better pass, you better take this seriously.'"

But she said it is not a path she would have chosen under better circumstances.

"In these economic times, with the State of New Jersey facing all of these economic cuts . . . this bill is there for help," she said. "What's coming down the road is going to be very difficult for all our school districts."