A local school district developed a creative way to provide a trusted daycare facility that doubled as taxpayer relief and then was told by the state to shut down.
In response, Senator Dawn Marie Addiego and Assemblymen Joe Howarth and Ryan Peters will introduce legislation on Monday, Dec. 17, 2018, that would revive Evesham Township’s Teddy Bear Academy and allow other school districts in the state to use public schools and district property for child care services.
District 8 lawmakers will introduce legislation to revive Evesham Township’s Teddy Bear Academy and allow other school districts in the state to use public schools and district property for child care services. (©iStock)
The bill by the 8th District Legislators is in response to a ruling made by New Jersey Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet in October that gave the childcare and preschool program for infants and toddlers until June 30, 2019 to shut down.
“Simply put, we did not agree with the ruling, and we don’t believe the state should come in the way of school districts finding creative ways to provide a service by using unoccupied space that they have,” said Addiego (R-Evesham).
School districts are only authorized to offer child care services before or after regular school hours to school-aged children in the district, according to the special ruling. The bill would allow a school district to use its property to provide child care services for children during school hours that are younger than school age and also to those who do not live in the district.
“The Evesham Township School District greatly appreciates the efforts of Senator Addiego and Assemblymen Howarth and Peters,” said Evesham Superintendent John Scavelli, Jr. “From day one, the Teddy Bear Academy has been committed to providing a place where children can grow and develop, and we thank the legislators for standing up for the children, parents and educators that call the academy home.”
The Evesham Township School District has seen declining enrollment in recent years, but instead of letting large portions of its facilities go unoccupied, it opened up the Teddy Bear Academy in an unused wing of Marlton Middle School in 2014.
The academy has been a source of hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for the district and has allowed the township to beat back property taxes. The relief aid from the daycare comes at an especially pressing time for the district, which stands to lose millions of dollars in funding based on the state’s new school funding formula.
“Many school districts are getting hammered by state aid reductions and are looking for any way they can to not pass the bill onto property taxpayers,” said Howarth (R-Burlington).
“The only way we’re going to lower property taxes in this state is to come up with creative solutions, and that’s exactly what the Evesham School District did. It’s a shame they were ultimately told no,” he continued.
“This bill would not only save the Teddy Bear Academy, but also provide eligibility for other school districts to generate revenue and provide a much-needed service,” said Peters (R-Burlington). “The support shown for the Teddy Bear Academy since the ruling was momentous. The teachers, children and parents are clearly passionate about the program, and we can’t wait for that passion to spring up in other communities.”
Several other school districts in the state provided early childhood programs prior to the ruling, including Toms River, Barnegat and Piscataway.