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The New Jersey Senate has failed to hold a vote on what was previously heralded as a "revolutionary" school busing bill.

Friday, June 30, was the final session of the New Jersey Legislature before the extended summer recess.

This is a massive blow to Agudath Israel of New Jersey who worked hard on the bill, along with a broad coalition of private schools and advocates including a number of Catholic schools.

There are two key issues facing our current school bussing setup:

1) Currently, school transportation can only be provided directly through a school district. If, say a Jackson student requires busing to Lakewood, the Lakewood school district cannot provide busing.

2) In Lakewood, the Lakewood Student Transportation Authority (LSTA) - which is a private entity - operates as the contractor to the Lakewood Board of Education to manage the bussing for non-public schools. The LSTA has been plagued with many complaints regarding mismanagement. Many of the complaints are rooted in the fact that, as a private entity the LSTA does not have the same legal responsibility of transparency as the Lakewood Board of Education has. (As previously reported here on FAA News, a Superior Court judge ordered the Lakewood School District to appear in court to respond to a lawsuit over their refusal to release public records relating to their contract with the LSTA).

To address these concerns, Assemblyman Louis Greenwald and Senator Vin Gopal sponsored a bill that would establish a nonpublic school consortium transportation program to provide funding to consortiums of nonpublic schools that will assume responsibility for participating school districts’ mandated nonpublic school busing for those students.

Effectively, the bill was to launch "STA's" in frum communities statewide. I.e., This bill was to allow children from various school districts to pool together under a consortium and have busing provided to all of them.

Under the program, a participating school district would disburse to the consortium an amount equal to the aid in-lieu-of transportation amount for each nonpublic school pupil who is attending a nonpublic school which is a part of the consortium and who is required by law to be transported by a school district. The consortium is to assume the responsibilities of transporting the pupils for whom it receives the aid in-lieu-of transportation amount.

If the per pupil cost of the lowest bid received exceeds the aid in-lieu-of transportation amount, the parent or guardian of the student will be eligible to receive the aid in-lieu-of transportation amount from the consortium for that school year.

In addition to providing transportation for students who are mandated to be transported, the consortium may provide non-mandated busing to students attending the nonpublic schools that are a part of the consortium, provided that the parents or guardians of those students pay all of the costs of that transportation.

Aiming to launch such a program statewide already for the upcoming 2023-2024 school year, New Jersey Agudah representatives worked hard to get this bill pushed through all the necessary votes this week, just before the Legislature went into summer recess.

The Assembly bill was introduced on May 8. On June 8, the bill unanimously cleared the Assembly Education Committee 7-0. On June 22, the bill unanimously passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee 11-0. On Friday, June 30, the bill got a favorable vote from the entire Assembly body.

The Senate bill was introduced on May 15. On June 12 it cleared the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

However, on Friday, the final day of regular sessions until after the General Election, despite many other bills getting a vote, the Senate failed to hold a vote on this bill.

The bill may not be completely dead, as it is possible that it will get revived in the Legislature's lame duck sessions in November and December, however, either way it will not be feasible to get launched for the start of the upcoming school year.

In related news, the Legislature did pass a bill to increase the aid-in-lieu for nonpublic mandated school bus transportation. Under the new budget, the current amount of $1,022 will increase by $143 to $1,165.

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