Interdistrict Public School Choice Leader Offers a Funding Solution

Bob Garguilo, chairman of the New Jersey Interdistrict Public School Choice Association, has an excellent editorial in today’s NJ Spotlight on the primary problem with this popular program: “the state’s funding formula is causing unnecessary and duplicate costs that are unfair to students, taxpayers, and the Interdistrict Choice program.”

Currently 5,000 students cross district boundaries and attend one of 137 schools that participate in the public school choice program. There are 1,000 more children on waiting lists but the state – in violation of the Interdistrict Public School Choice Act – placed a stringent cap on the number of seats that school boards can offer to out-of-district students. The reasons for that cap are some oddities in the 2008 School Funding Reform Act, which dictates state aid for school districts. Garguilo explains that the funding formula “actually allows for multiple payments for one student -- or as some would describe it, the funding of 'ghost' students.”

He continues, "[t]herefore, a Choice district” – a district where the school board votes to accept out-of-district students --  “was able to maintain adjustment aid, get Choice aid, and receive state aid for a Choice student while the sending district got aid as well. The state can actually be paying for one and the same student in four different aid categories!"

Thus, the cap on program growth. Thus, the waiting list. Thus, the stifling of an immensely popular program.

There are a host of problems embedded in SFRA, including its immunity to fiscal reality, but legislators are loath to touch this political hot potato. Garguilo offers an equitable solution to the state’s redundant payments: let state aid "follow the child rather than pad district budgets," and he outlines a specific proposal for funding allocations. However,  these changes would require Statehouse leaders to redirect attention from panderous educational bill proposals like charter moratoria and anti-testing schemes to legislation that would actually help students and families. Let's hope our legislators are up to the challenge.