The state Senate’s majority leader said she opposes private school vouchers because of budgetary constraints.
Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Dist. 18) made the statement in response to a question from an eighth-grade student during a visit to Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison on Oct. 4.
Buono cited her opposition to the Opportunity Scholarship Act, which would allow corporations to receive tax breaks in exchange for tuition assistance for students in low-performing schools, allowing them to attend private or parochial schools chosen by their families. The bill cleared a Senate budget panel in January, but hasn’t been put forward for a vote.
“I didn’t vote for the voucher bill because I felt it was not the time,” said Buono during a question-and-answer period. “I didn’t feel we could take more money from the public schools.”
The visit to RPRY and Reenas Bais Yaacov Girls High School in Highland Park was organized by the Orthodox Union as part of an effort to educate politicians about the tuition crunch facing families with children attending day schools.
Buono was accompanied by Josh Pruzansky, OU’s regional director of public policy for New Jersey, and Highland Park councilman and mayor-elect Gary Minkoff, a former RPRY parent and board member.
Buono was given a tour of the yeshiva by RPRY principal Rabbi Shraga Gross, greeting students who wished her a “L’shana tova.”
In a kindergarten class, children read in Hebrew for Buono, who also viewed science labs.
In the question-and-answer session, she fielded students’ queries on Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential prospects and whether she had met President Obama. The biggest response came after another eighth-grader asked where Buono stood on dropping the driving age to 16.
“I’m opposed,” Buono answered without hesitation, and then quickly added “sorry” as disappointed students loudly groaned and the adults in the room laughed.
Ethel Solomon, the school’s director of special services, stopped Buono to voice her concern about state cuts to special education and other programs that affected programs in both public and private schools.
“We tried to put them back in the budget,” the senator told her, but such initiatives were met with opposition.
Pruzansky, a Highland Park resident, told NJJN that the OU is working with politicians of both parties to find creative solutions that would help provide funding to all schools.
“Having strong public schools is important and benefits us all, but we have an affordability crisis among day school families,” said Pruzansky.
Buono said she has wanted to come to the school for quite some time and said she was impressed with the students’ enthusiasm, love of learning, and discipline.
She added the experience took her back to when her own daughter attended kindergarten at the Jewish Community Center of Middlesex County in Edison.
“It was the same nurturing environment,” she said.
Students said they found Buono’s story of how she got into politics and details of her job to be interesting — and even cool.
“I was very surprised,” said fourth-grader Liam Smith of Highland Park. “I was just amazed that she was actually a senator and she was actually in my classroom. I just didn’t expect that at all. If I had known it was going to happen I would have told my mother.”
Dalya Goldman, an eighth-grader from Highland Park, was disappointed to learn Buono did not support school vouchers.
“I think the state should help because it’s hard for families,” she said. “I come from a family with five kids. If they help the public schools, they should also help the non-public schools.”