A source of hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue in their district can only operate for a few more months before the state forces it to shut down, so a group of New Jersey lawmakers have introduced legislation to reverse the state's current rules and open the door for other communities to cash in as well.

The bill, introduced by a trio of 8th District legislators, would allow school districts to use public schools and district property for child care services during school hours.

That's been going on at Marlton Middle School since 2014, when Teddy Bear Academy was created by the school district to occupy an unused wing. The district had been dealing with declining enrollment for years, resulting in unoccupied spaces throughout the district.

But the Evesham Township School District was informed by the state commissioner of education in October that the childcare and preschool program for infants and toddlers must be shut down by June 30, 2019. School districts are only authorized to offer child care services before or after regular school hours, and only to school-aged children in the district, the state said.

"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," said Assemblyman Ryan Peters, R-Burlington, a sponsor of the measure. "It's a shame they were ultimately told no."

The bill also would allow the on-site daycare to provide services for children who live outside of the district. Peters said that with this move, teachers would actually be able to bring their children to the school in which they teach, for all-day care.

Bill sponsors said the academy inside Marlton Middle School has "allowed the township to beat back property taxes."

"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 Assemblyman Joe Howarth, R-Burlington.

According to the bill's sponsors, several other school districts in the state provided early childhood programs prior to the ruling, including Toms River, Barnegat and Piscataway.

The challenge to Teddy Bear Academy's operations began during former Gov. Chris Christie's administration. The current administration's education commissioner made the ruling based on an Administrative Law Judge's recommendation that was submitted in July.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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