School Choice Pile-Up

Here’s an interesting contrast regarding our newly-authorized Interdistrict Public School Choice Program. This week two wealthy NJ districts (both have DFG’s of I on a scale of A-J) entertained the option of volunteering to be “choice districts,” i.e., open any extra seats to students within the county but outside of district boundaries. Home districts get the revenue, needy kids get a chance, and everyone’s happy right?

Depends if you live in Marlboro or Evesham. In Marlboro in Monmouth County, the Board voted unanimously and with little debate to participate in the Interdistrict School Choice Program. (Asbury Park Press.) On the other hand, when the superintendent of Evasham Public Schools in Burlington County recommended that the district apply, 200 audience members gave the idea a thumbs-down, despite a potential $581K in revenue amidst a grim fiscal picture.

According to South Jersey Local News, a representative comment came from parent Joe Barbagiovanni, who “expressed concern that there would be an effect on the housing crisis, saying, 'If (people) knew we were bringing (students) in from the outside, why would they move here?'”

Not that they don't have the space. According to the paper, Superintendent John Scavelli's proposal would have limited participation to kindergarten and first grade. Enrollment in the district in 2003 was 406 kindergarteners and 544 first graders. This year there are 359 kindergartners and 485 first graders, a decrease of over 13 percent, or 700 students.

But the motion did not even come up for a vote. It was withdrawn due to obvious public sentiment. That's bad news for families in districts in Burlington, like Willingboro or Beverly City or Mount Holly, where a seat in Evesham would be like winning the lottery. Ah, Interdistrict Public School Choice, the Blanche Dubois of New Jersey's education reform movement, where a seat in a high-performing district depends on the kindness of strangers.