New Jersey - Lakewood Bussing Bill Awaits Governor Christie’s Signature After Passing Both Houses
Lakewood, NJ - Supporters of a bill that would provide free busing for private school children in Lakewood are heaving a collective sigh of relief as the legislation passed the State Assembly today and is now on its way to Governor Chris Christie’s desk for his approval.
The bill, which squeaked through on the final day of the current legislative session, was drafted in response to a decision by a state appointed monitoring team to cancel all courtesy bussing in Lakewood in an effort to alleviate a $12 million budget deficit, as reported by the Asbury Park Press. That shortfall is being blamed on the ever growing transportation and special education needs of Lakewood’s Jewish community.
School districts in New Jersey are required to provide free bussing to any elementary school students living more than two miles from school and any high school students living more than two and a half miles away from their school. Lakewood has historically provided courtesy bussing to students who live closer than the required distance, a number that is estimated to include 7,000 private school students and 3,000 public school students.
The legislation, sponsored by State Senator Robert W. Singer and Assemblymen Sean T. Kean and David P. Rible, would create a three year pilot program which would have the Lakewood School District transferring the necessary funding for the bussing to a new consortium of private schools.
While the program’s allotment of $884 in transportation costs per child is an increase of $259 per student over the current rates, the consortium, unlike the school district, would be legally allowed to sign long term contracts with bus companies. That move is expected to generate significant savings and will cover the cost of transporting children who don’t qualify for bussing because of the state’s distance requirements.
With 18,930 private school students in Lakewood, the tab for next year’s free bussing would be approximately $16.7 million. The Lakewood School District would be responsible for 83 percent of the associated costs, an amount that would ultimately be paid by taxpayers, with the state footing the remaining $149 per student.
Although the bussing bill does not have any provisions for public school students who are ineligible for courtesy bussing, Lakewood’s Township Committee has agreed to cover those costs so that all township students who live closer than the minimum distance to their schools would receive free bussing.
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