Lesniak Will Keep Pushing for ‘Recovery High Schools’ Despite Christie Veto

“Maybe we can find a way to put this back together again,” Lesniak said, following discussions yesterday with the state Department of Education and Republican leaders.

A passionate issue for the senator for more than two years, the notion of recovery high schools was dealt a clear setback by Christie’s veto.

Lesniak’s bill -- approved overwhelmingly in both Senate and Assembly -- proposed the creation of a pilot program for up to three middle- and high-school programs statewide that would exclusively serve students with substance-abuse problems.

Christie’s conditional veto did not reject the concept outright, but said recovery schools should be established through local districts, not the state.

In the midst of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Christie’s conditional veto wasn’t entirely surprising; he’s been pushing back on what some see as overly burdensome state mandates on schools. Yet substance abuse and recovery-- at least for adults -- are issues that are close to Christie’s heart.

“What’s amazing is he would say his veto enhances the opportunity, when in fact it guts the bill and makes it almost impossible,” Lesniak said in an interview yesterday.

“He has killed any hope for children who have struggled with substance abuse to get the education they need and the support they need for recovery,” he said.

He also said that one of the flaws of Christie’s veto is that the governor called for local districts to start their own alternative programs, when such a specialized service would surely span several districts.

“These grow in small numbers and have to draw across many districts,” Lesniak said.

One of the issues is whether the state can legally serve such a specialized population. In 2013, Lesniak proposed a recovery school modeled on a charter school. The Christie administration rejected that, too.

Christie’s veto message this week said limiting the schools only to students in recovery could be too restrictive, and he proposed that the bill be amended to allow local districts to open up alternative schools serving a wider range of needs.

In his veto message, Christie recommended changing the language from “recovery” schools to “alternative” schools, opening up more options.

“The alternative education program shall provide a variety of approaches to meet State-adopted standards, including non-traditional programs, services, and methodologies to ensure curriculum and instruction are delivered in a way that enables students to demonstrate the knowledge and skills specified for all students,” Christie’s message said.

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