By Matt Friedman, NJ Advance Media for

TRENTON — A bill that would expand New Jersey’s controversial Urban Hope Act is one step closer to becoming law.

The state Senate today voted 32-1 to concur with Gov. Chris Christie’s conditional veto of the bill (S2264), which would make changes to the 2012 law that allowed so-called renaissance schools.

The bill as currently written allows renaissance schools — which are privately run and similar to charter schools — more time to apply to open, as well as the ability to open in “substantially” reconstructed facilities, as opposed to brand new ones.

In addition, renaissance schools would be exempt from public school facility regulations “other than those pertaining to the health and safety of the pupil” — a clause already in the state’s law that authorizes charter schools.

The bill has been substantially pared down from when it was first introduced in June. Originally, it would have given tax breaks to the schools — one of which was founded partly by the family foundation of south Jersey power broker George Norcross — but that provision was struck before it reached Christie’s desk. Once it reached Christie, he removed parts of the bill that would have created pension incentives to get Camden teachers to retire early in order to alleviate the effect of 241 teacher layoffs there.

Although the Urban Hope Act was written to include three cities — Camden, Trenton and Newark — renaissance schools have only opened in Camden. This fall, three renaissance schools opened — all of which are at least partly in temporary space.


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