Thursday, March 19, 2009

Commissioner Lucille Davy plan could give families more school choice

Here is an article published by Diane D'Amico from the Press of Atlantic City. The issue of School Choice is something that may be of interest to readers of this blog. The Hoboken School District currently allows non-Hoboken students to enter its schools up through sixth grade. This accounts for a very small number of students (under 10 children). -Dr. Petrosino

TRENTON The state Department of Education wants to make the school choice program available to every public school district in the state, potentially giving thousands of students more options for where they will attend school.

If approved, the expansion also could be a way for small or struggling school districts to generate more students and revenue.

“We’d jump on it,” said John Saporito, superintendent of the small K-8 Maurice River Township school in Cumberland County, which was named a School to Watch by the state last year.

Education Commissioner Lucille Davy will present the proposal to the state Board of Education today as part of the readoption process of the school choice code, which expires in September. In a memo to board members, she notes that the program has been highly successful and has had increasing demand, but has been limited by its size.

A choice school district accepts a set number of students who live in other districts, at no cost. Parents apply to have their children attend the choice district rather than their hometown school. If necessary, a lottery process is used to decide who attends.

The current program, begun as a five-year pilot in 1999, limits school choice to one district in each county. Currently, 16 districts enroll 872 choice students statewide.

Southern New Jersey currently has four choice districts: Folsom in Atlantic County, Lower Township in Cape May County, Cumberland Regional High School in Cumberland County and Stafford Township in Ocean County. Enrollment in those programs has been limited by the fact that state aid for the program has been flat for the past three years.

The new regulations would also give the choice district the ability to reject students with serious disciplinary problems. Students who might require out-of-district special education placements would be funded by their hometown districts.

Most other regulations remain in place. School districts could still set limits on the number of students who could leave their district.

Lower Township schools superintendent Joseph Cirrinicione said he would love to see the choice program expand to Lower Cape May Regional so that the almost 60 choice students who attend his K-6 school district can continue with their friends for grades seven through high school. He admits it could also create competition if other elementary districts are approved, but he said the goal should be doing what is best for students.

“We have a waiting list now,” he said. “It’s about fairness for the children.”

Cirrinicione said he also supports allowing choice districts to reject some students because it would prevent districts from trying to push problem students onto the choice districts.

The expansion could be a potential source of revenue, since the choice students would generate state aid. Maurice River Township’s Saporito said his district have been interested in the program, but could not apply since there already is a choice district in Cumberland County.

“We’ve had as many as 600 students and are down to around 400 now (in grades K-8) so we have the room,” he said. “Even 50 more students would be a tremendous help to our budget.”

New Jersey School Boards Association spokesman Frank Belluscio said the association supports allowing more districts to apply, but also is concerned that sending districts would lose state aid if students chose to leave.

“We would expect there to be more interest because there are districts with shrinking enrollment.” Belluscio said. “But the sending district doesn’t have a choice and it could impact their aid.”

Derrell Bradford of Excellent Education for Everyone, which supports school choice, said the group hopes that an expansion would allow students now attending struggling schools to attend better schools.

“It shouldn’t just be a way for kids from a good school to go to another good school,” he said. “It should be a way to get kids out of schools that are not working for them. If it’s not helping kids get into better places, it’s not really accomplishing what it should.”

Click here for full article: HERE