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New Jersey voters may be voting in November to allow the state to take out a $1 billion bond to pay for school projects, including expansion to vocational schools and school security upgrades.

In a move championed by the state vocational school advocacy group, the state Assembly on Thursday passed a bill that would put the funding up for a public vote in the General Election. The bill must be approved by the Senate before going to the governor.

“This will be a game-changer for workforce development in our state,” said Judy Savage, executive director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools. “It is a strategic investment in New Jersey’s future.”

According to the sponsors of the bill, Assembly Democrats Dan Benson, John Burzichelli and Pamela Lampitt, 17,000 students applied for but were denied enrollment in county vocational schools last year due to lack of infrastructure. That’s an average of 2.3 applicants for every seat.

In South Jersey, vocational schools have been growing over the last few years due to what administrators say is high demand. Cumberland County Technical Education Center just announced plans for an expansion there to accommodate the growing number of applicants it receives annually.

At the Atlantic County Institute of Technology, Superintendent Phil Guenther has said the school is only able to accept about half of its 1,000 applicants each year and plans to continue its expansion.

In response, some local school districts are opposing vocational school expansion saying it can lead to declining enrollment, increased tuition burden and, sometimes, decreased state aid.

In the last year, Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District has asked ACIT to cut back its expansion due to the out-of-district tuition burden digging into the district’s operating budget. In Cumberland County, Cumberland Regional High School has had a similar fight with CCTEC.

Under the bill, called the “Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act,” grants would be awarded to increase the career and technical education program capacity at county vocational school districts and county colleges, for school K-12 security upgrades and for school district water infrastructure improvement projects.

For projects approved for funding, counties would pay 25 percent of the costs, with the remaining 75 percent funded by the bond act.

The $1 billion in bond proceeds would be allocated in the following manner:

$400 million for county vocational school district career and technical education grants;

$50 million for county college career and technical education grants;

$450 million for K-12 school facility security grants; and

$100 million for school district water infrastructure improvement grants.

Contact: 609-272-7251 Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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