What Happened to our Interdistrict Choice?

In today’s New York Times Bob Herbert looks at the impact of taking kids from segregated, low-performing schools and placing them in neighboring high-performing districts:
If you really want to improve the education of poor children, you have to get them away from learning environments that are smothered by poverty. This is being done in some places, with impressive results. An important study conducted by the Century Foundation in Montgomery County, Md., showed that low-income students who happened to be enrolled in affluent elementary schools did much better than similarly low-income students in higher-poverty schools in the county.
NJ’s public school system is one of the most segregated in the country. Over 50% of our black kids are in “extremely segregated schools” (those with a 90-100% minority population), which puts us fifth among the 50 states. For Hispanic kids we’re 4th, with 41.8% kids in extremely segregated schools.

One innovative way to address this inequity is our Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, which lets schools volunteer to take in kids from neighboring districts. The home district supplies the tuition and transportation, the choice district gets the tuition and diversity, and the kid and his or her family get a choice.

This solution is particularly compelling in a state like ours with almost 600 school districts. Every one of our poor urban districts is next door to one or more higher-performing suburban schools, many with open seats and budgetary problems. Win-win, right?

So our pilot Interdistrict Public School Choice program was made permanent last Fall with an anticipated high enrollment of school districts eager to volunteer. It’s almost April; kids and parents should be filling out applications, right? And this past November 70 districts applied to be choice districts. Valarie Smith, director of the DOE program told NJ Spotlight, "We knew this would be popular, but I underestimated how popular it would be. The number of calls we received was stupendous, from Abbott districts up to places like Alpine."

Yet from the DOE website,
The department will start to list the participating schools for the 2011-2012 school year on our Web site under the link for “Approved Choice Districts” about mid-January 2011.
Click on the link and it’s the same 15 schools that have been participants for years.

Maybe it’s just an oversight. But what happened to those 70 districts? Time’s a wastin’, DOE. Those kids can’t wait.

Update: a reader sent this article from the Gloucester County Times, about two districts, Pitman and Glassboro, that applied to be choice districts but are still waiting to hear back from the DOE regarding their status. NJ DOE Spokeman Allison Kobus told the paper that "They are still processing applications. When all applications are processed, more information will be forthcoming."