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Jersey School Choice Program Is Expanding

Wally Gobetz

Jersey parents who are not satisfied with their child’s public school can sign up to move them to another district, under the state’s Interdistrict Choice program – but they’ve got to hurry.

A letter of intent must be filled out by November first.

The Interdistrict Choice program allows students the option of attending a public school outside their district of residence without cost to their parents. A total of 3 thousand 126 new seats are being offered by 71 school districts approved to participate in program for the 2012-13 school year.

State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf says this is “essentially an opportunity to empower parents with as many choices as possible…the person best in a position to know what is right for the individual needs of his or her children is the parent – they know the child, they know the needs.”

He says parents may want to move their son or daughter for several reasons – “it may be that they just think that the fit is not right- it may be that they made a quality judgment that the school in an adjoining district or another district is better…we should really drive quality by maximizing the choice of parents based on full information.”

Cerf adds the Interdistrict Choice program is completely voluntary, and “no district need apply to be a receiving district or a choice district – and no parent of course needs to exercise that option…but if a school system really believes it has a quality offering and it has excess capacity, it is really a positive thing for it to add to the diversity of the district as well as to bring in the resources that come with children whose parents choose to send them to a choice district.”

He also says “we’re sort of looking hard at a system that has many, many, many successes, but also has many opportunities for improvement -we’re quickly moving past an era where a child is consigned to a very limited choice in where he or she goes to school, and really letting individual parents and students have broader opportunities to figure out what’s right for them.”

Transportation of up to 20 miles, or funds to pay for transportation, will be provided by the district of residence to a student going to a choice school. If the school is outside of the 20-mile radius, transportation will be the responsibility of the student, parents or guardians.

Parents who would like their child to take part in the program may obtain an Intent to Participate form from the NJDOE website at http://state.nj.us/education/choice/forms/NoticeOfIntentForm.pdf. and return it to their home district by the November 1, 2011, deadline. Applications may be obtained by contacting the choice school districts directly and are due by December 1, 2011.

The choice school sets the number of openings per grade level. If there are more students requesting admission to the school than there are available openings, the school chooses the students by lottery. Any school-age student who is a resident of New Jersey is eligible to take advantage of this program.

The Interdistrict School Choice Program was signed into law by Governor Christie on September 10, 2010. Details on the program can be found at www.state.nj.us/education/choice

A list of schools participating in the program can be found on their website.

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