Props to the Assembly

Interdistrict school choice is inscribed in law after an Assembly vote yesterday, 78-0. Of course it’s all voluntary: districts apply, if the spirit moves them, to offer empty seats to students outside of municipal boundaries, and students can apply for those seats. Sending districts are responsible for transportation and the money follows the kid.

The big question: will any districts actually apply? The pilot program, initiated in 1999, allowed one district from each of our 21 counties to be labeled a “choice district.” In fact, 15 did so (here’s the complete list), leaving 6 counties without any options. And some of those choice districts are limited. For example, Burlington County’s choice district, Green Bank Elementary School, has exactly 2 students enrolled from out of district for the 2009-2010 school year. On the other hand, according to DOE data there were 83 kids enrolled K-8th grade for the 2008-2009 school year.

Apparently one of the incentives for schools to volunteer as choice districts is survival. That’s a pretty good cattleprod but doesn’t really address the primary issue of allowing students stuck in chronically failing schools to have an escape hatch to a successful one.

But bully for the Assembly. It’s a no-brainer, this one, and let’s hope that the bill promotes expansion of school choice in NJ. If it doesn’t, perhaps some meaningful incentives might provide the necessary poke.