Wednesday, April 30, 2014

School Choice in Hoboken and in NJ- a Short History (Part I)

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How did school choice start in Hoboken? Well, it began back in April of 2009 when then Superintendent Raslowsky and myself first proposed it for official approval to the Hoboken Board of Education. School Choice was then a fairly new program in the State of New Jersey and is now known as the Interdistrict Public School Program. Each August, the NJ Department of Education approves new choice districts for the next school year. There are currently 136 approved Choice Districts for the 2014-15 school year. At the time (2009) the Hoboken School District was one of the first approved districts for receiving students, commonly known as a "receiving district."

According to the Hoboken Reporter (April, 2009) we read: 

The board, administration, and the public debated at the meeting whether the district should open their rolls to out-of-town students. 
Critics said the district should cater more to the students that they have, but proponents want to increase enrollment to fill classrooms and reduce per pupil costs. They could be reimbursed up to $884 per pupil from the student’s home school district. Hoboken would reserve the right to turn down any student that would create a financial burden. For next year, the district has allowed for 20 such students to enter the schools.
(Theresa) Minutillo said the schools were basing their decision on finances, not educational benefits. 
Raslowsky said the schools were hoping to expand programs and more students would allow for that possibility, but he didn’t deny the financial impact.
“We don’t have a lot of ways to increase revenue; that’s why I would consider it,” Raslowsky said.
(Terry) Gilliard was in favor of the initiative. “We have a high school that’s almost empty. We need to do something and we need to do it, I think, now,” she said.

Since those original 20 students, the school choice program in Hoboken has vastly increased and has brought in nearly $10,000,000 in outside revenue from surrounding school districts (see graphic above). The program has kept schools open, teacher-student ratio's reasonable, and has delayed or avoided teacher and staff layoffs due to decrease in local/residential enrollment. But it is important to remember the origins of the school choice program in the Hoboken School District. 

Admittedly, going from 20 students a year to well over 150 is an increase never initially envisioned. But over the last 6-7 years the district has grown increasingly dependent upon both the enrollment of these "receiving" students on the district rolls and the revenue associated with these students. One must wonder whether surrounding districts may not enjoy sending $10,000,000 to Hoboken in a time of tightening budgets ("sending" districts are compensated to some degree).  Finally, it it worth noting that it has been a number of years since approved districts have been reviewed. 


Note: The "school choice" program has been so popular statewide that in November of 2013 the New Jersey Department of Education announced plans to reduce the program

Total Expenditures - NJ School Choice Program