TRENTON - A new voucher program that may become part of New Jersey's public school system was debated in the State House Thursday during a budget hearing.

The controversial program is intended to help students in failing school districts. The Department of Education wants to spend $2 million out of the much larger $9 billion budget on a pilot voucher program.

Under the proposal, students in failing districts could receive up to $10,000 to attend school in another district.

New Jersey Education Commissioner Christopher Cref believes the program will make a difference to students. "It's very hard for me personally to look them in the face and say, well there's all these political considerations that you have to understand, " Cref says. "We'll force you to stay in a school where 20 percent of the kids can read on level. That doesn't work for me."

Supporters say the plan assumes competition for students between districts will inspire them to improve. Opponents say it weakens financial support in areas that need it the most.