The president of the New Jersey NAACP called on the Legislature Friday night to vote down a bill that would let scholarships be awarded to students in failing school districts so they could attend better-performing public and private schools.
James Harris said the proposed pilot project, to be funded with corporate donations through a tax-credit program, would draw state funding away from inner-city, predominantly Hispanic and African American, schools.
"This will create an opportunity for a select group of families to use tax dollars to send their children to private and parochial schools," Harris said. "The NAACP wants to use public money to improve public education for all New Jersey families."
Harris spoke at a statewide NAACP conference at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Cherry Hill. National NAACP chief executive officer Benjamin Jealous was scheduled to speak at Friday's news conference, but his flight was delayed, Harris said.
In May, State Sens. Raymond Lesniak (D., Union) and Thomas H. Kean Jr. (R., Union) introduced the legislation, called the Opportunity Scholarship Act. It was approved by the Economic Growth Committee. A companion bill has been introduced in the Assembly.
The scholarship program, which Gov. Christie supports, is designed to even education gaps among New Jersey students, an Education Department spokesman said.
Last week, Christie signed a law that will let parents send their children out of their districts to better-performing public schools. Parents would be responsible for the transportation costs to any school more than 20 miles from their home district.
Harris said the NAACP supported that legislation but wondered what reaction it would elicit in wealthier suburbs.
"It would be interesting to see how many of these predominantly white school districts will welcome students from districts like Camden," he said.