Monday, March 26, 2012

New Version of OSA Hits Statehouse

Statehouse sponsors of the long-simmering Opportunity Scholarship Act have filed a new version of the legislation and hope to start ushering it through committee in May. The new language represents some substantive changes from earlier versions, but is still intended to serve as an expansion of school choice for low-income children who attend a chronically failing public school.

Here’s the changes:
  • The number of districts eligible for corporate-sponsored scholarships is down to seven: Asbury Park, Camden, Elizabeth, Lakewood, Newark, Orange, and Passaic. The last version had 13.
  • There are fewer scholarships available: the pilot cost, once projected at $360 million, is down to a maximum of $138 million.
  • Originally, 25% of the scholarships were set aside for students who already attended non-public schools, as long as their parents didn’t earn more than 250% of the poverty level. Now none of the scholarships are set aside for students who already attend non-public school and income eligibility is set at 185% of the poverty level.
This new version of OSA is, in my eyes, much improved. Some of the criticism directed at OSA was the large number of scholarships to be awarded to kids already in private/parochial school, plus the relatively high cut-off for income eligibility. This new version corrects those benchmarks.

This is especially relevant, given the continued inclusion of Lakewood, where the vast majority of the kids attend Orthodox yeshivas. (The public school kids – 80% Latino and 20% African-American – pay a steep educational and governance cost because so much money and political will goes towards non-public transportation and out-of-district support services, including, for instance, separate buses for girls and boys.)

Here's my description of the problems in Lakewood.

Back to OSA. Last week Bruce Baker over at SchoolFinance101 (and Rutgers) posted “Revisiting NJ OSA and the Lakewood Effect.”

Dr. Baker writes,
In other words, all of the other locations [eligible for scholarships] combined do not have the sum total of low income private school enrolled children that Lakewood has. Lakewood would likely be the epicenter of NJOSA scholarship distribution. I noted in my first post on this topic that if the average scholarship amounts were as proposed, the Lakewood yeshiva schools would stand to take in as much as $67 million per year in these indirect taxpayer subsidies.
Here’s Dr. Baker’s map of the Lakewood private school marketplace & current enrollments.

Dr. Baker’s analysis is based on earlier versions of the bill, and doesn’t include important changes like the lowering of income eligibility and the decision to not award 25% of the scholarships to kids already in private/parochial school. These changes should allay some of those concerns. But that raises the question of why sponsors of the legislation would tarnish the bill’s noble intentions with the inclusion of a district with a sullied reputation.

(By the way, Gordon Macinnes's editorial today in NJ Spotlight against OSA is based on the old version.)

3 comments:

Deb said...

I believe you are (again) misinformed. Both Bruce Baker and MacInnes base their analysis largely on Senator Kean's current bill, and MacInnes specifically compares it to the new Assembly bill.

NJ Left Behind said...

Hi, Deb. I should have been clearer. My post refers to newly-released Assembly bill.

Deb said...

To be clear though, MacInnes directly refers to both bills and distinguishes them in his analysis, Bruce Baker's analysis was completed before the Assembly bill text was available and finally, the Assembly bill is the later one to be released but does not replace Kean's bill in the Senate. They are both in play and fair game for analysis and critiques.