Funding for special-needs education should follow each student to the school of their choice, Assemblywoman Annette Quijano told a gathering of staff, parents, and students at the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth.
“We are a global society,” she said during a visit on April 3, “so we need to make sure that all our children have the skills and education to help grow the economy of the future.”
Quijano (D-Dist. 20), the deputy majority leader in the NJ State Assembly, has been one of the leaders of an effort to secure funding for educational services for private school students with special needs.
She described a visit to Trenton two weeks earlier, with a delegation she helped coordinate, to lobby for A-3055, a bill that would allow school districts to assign a student with special needs to an accredited special-education program at a private parochial school, as long as the funds are used only for nonsectarian programs and services.
The delegation included Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Dist. 20), Senate education chair Teresa Ruiz (D-Dist. 29), State Sen. Steven Oroho (R-Dist. 24), and Jessani Gordon and Gregory Kocher of the NJ Department of Education’s Office of Non-Public Schools.
Quijano’s JEC visit was part of an initiative led by the Orthodox Union and Advocacy NJ in what they are calling a push for greater “parity” in funding and services between public and nonpublic schools, and affordability in the private school sector. Ora Sheinson, a member of the JEC board of trustees, spearheaded the school’s involvement in the lobbying trip and coordinated the legislator’s visit to the JEC, in conjunction with the OU-Advocacy NJ leadership.
Rabbi Josh Pruzansky, OU NJ regional director, has been running mini-missions to Trenton and local districts to raise awareness of the issue. He welcomed Quijano’s involvement. “The assemblywoman has shown enthusiastic support for a bill that will help kids with special educational needs and relieve their parents of a tremendous financial burden,” he said.
During Quijano’s visit, one JEC parent described having two children in private school while a third was unable to receive the services he needed and thus had to attend public school. The arrangement creates challenges around morning prayers, kashrut issues, and Shabbat and holiday differences and restrictions, the parent explained.
Lisa Bond, JEC’s early childhood director, said that when a private school such as JEC is unable to accept a child because of lack of funding for special needs, it is always painful. “We would love to meet all of our kids’ needs,” she said. “We are on the front lines, and teachers cry to me, but what can we do?”