Burlington County Times Editorial
When our elected state officials go to work at the Statehouse in Trenton, the jaded among us sometimes wonder just what it is they’re doing all day. So it is indeed refreshing when our lawmakers respond in a meaningful way to a pressing local issue.
Witness the Teddy Bear Academy in Evesham and the proposed legislation to save it written by Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego and Assemblymen Joe Howarth and Ryan Peters. All three are Republicans who represent the 8th District.
While the proposal would directly benefit the Teddy Bear Academy, which has been operated by the school district since 2014 and offers child care and preschool program for infants and toddlers, it is broad enough to allow districts throughout the state to use their public schools and property for child care services.
Addiego, Howarth and Peters took action upon seeing a groundswell of support for the academy from parents and the public after a judge ruled in July that it shut down. The state commissioner of education ordered the academy to close by next June 30.
A private, competing school, Under the Sun Learning Center, had filed a petition against the Evesham School District, claiming the district was exceeding its authority by offering the program.
“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,” Addiego said in explaining the decision behind the legislation, which the lawmakers intend to introduce on Monday.
State law allows school districts to offer child care services only before or after school and only to local school-age children. The Teddy Bear Academy is held at the Marlton Middle School, and provides 10-month and 12-month programs from 6:45 a.m. to 6 p.m. to resident and nonresident children from 6 weeks to 5 years old.
It has been very popular, with about 85 children enrolled. Just as important as giving parents peace of mind in knowing their kids are being cared for by professionals in the school district, where many of them will be attending K to 12, it also provides the district with needed revenue at a time when state aid seems to be in constant flux.
Face it, moms and dads everywhere are working. Not everyone has a grandparent or family friend readily available to take care of their pre-school-age children. One of the hardest decisions they will make is deciding on child care — where they will go, and how much it will cost. We believe the more options, the better. Parents obviously can patronize Under the Sun or any other learning center. But if the Teddy Bear Academy is meeting their needs, why on earth should it be denied them?
It took a controversy in our own county to make this proposed state legislation happen. Give credit to the parents and supporters who shouted loud enough to be heard, including on the Statehouse steps. And give credit to our elected officials for listening. That’s how government should work. We urge the Legislature to support this bill proposed by Addiego, Howarth and Peters and, in doing so, support New Jersey parents.