New Jersey Seeks Permanent Interdistrict Choice

Published February 2, 2010

The New Jersey Assembly’s Education Committee unanimously approved legislation to create a permanent public school choice program allowing students to move across district lines.

If the bill, passed on January 4, eventually is signed into law, it would replace a pilot program that expired in 2005, though many participating school districts have kept it alive since then on an unofficial basis.

“The program gives parents choice within the public school system,” said state Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex), the primary sponsor of Assembly Bill 3472. “And it gives the public school districts the opportunity to be creative. It also provides an opportunity to show crossing district lines can work.”

Parental Involvement Required

But not every school in New Jersey is included in the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program Act. Under the bill, a proposed choice district must submit an application to the Commissioner of Education no later than April 30 of the school year prior to the one in which it would like to participate. The district must also include in the application a description of its programs, schools, and number of student openings for each grade level.

Parents would also be required to submit an application to the school district to which they want to transfer their children, said state Assemblywoman Joan Voss (D-Bergen), the bill’s second primary sponsor.

“Parents have to be very much involved in this process,” Voss said. “And a parent has to be really concerned about their child’s education to go through all of the hoops required.”

School Officials ‘Very Enthusiastic’

In order to be considered for acceptance into a particular school district, Voss explained, students must attend the school they desire to leave for at least a year. Parents are also required to show they are seeking to move for primarily academic reasons, not social or athletic ones.

AB 3472 would not only allow for student and parental choice, Jasey said, but also give school officials who have been “very enthusiastic” about the program the opportunity “to think outside the box. And that is a good thing,” she said.

Voss agreed.

“You are going to see a lot of new things happening in education in terms of choice [in New Jersey],” she said. “Because anything that is good for kids is good for me, as far as I’m concerned.”

AB3472 was reported out of Assembly Committee with amendments and a second reading. On January 12 it was reintroduced and referred to the Education Committee as part of AB 355.

Elisha Maldonado ([email protected]) writes from California.