Interdistrict school choice, a New Jersey program that allows students to enroll in schools outside their home district, was only signed into law in 2010 — but its popularity has grown substantially even over the relatively short period it has been in effect. After the success of the pilot program, which ran for several years and covered only a select number of districts, the total number of students who take advantage of it statewide is expected to top 6,000.
Morris Plains School District is just one beneficiary of the program. They hope to draw as many as 36 choice students to their two schools by the 2013 academic year, which will pad the district budget by as much as $450,000 annually. Morris Plains Superintendent Ernest Palestis said that the money will be a boon to the district which has been substantially hobbled by the budget caps. He called the school choice program “a welcome revenue source.”
The total number of school districts taking in students from other areas is expected to grow from 79 to 109 next year, and the number of students is expected to nearly double to 6,144 from 3,357.
While many “receiving” districts in the past were in rural southern counties or urban areas, a growing number are signing up in wealthier suburban counties such as Morris, Hunterdon and Sussex. Many school officials there say the additional state aid is a boon at a time of tight expenses and budget caps.
Some districts view the interdistrict choice program as a good way to draw both students and funding at the time when their own enrollment is dropping. According to Tewksbury Interim Superintendent Jim Gamble, who is lobbying hard to bring more out-of-district students to his schools, the local student population is expected to drop by about 130 students in the next five years — a hefty chunk for a 700-student district. Attracting kids and families from elsewhere in the area would go a long way towards Gamble’s goal of maintaining its current level of staffing and keeping all the academic and extracurricular programs funded.
Families who are looking to take advantage of the program must notify their home districts by November 2nd.
Bound Brook, in Somerset County, began accepting choice students last year, and this year will educate 24 out-of-district kids. Revenue from those students let the district buy 500 iPads for high school students, which were distributed on the first day of school.
“If you get school choice money, it frees up other money so you can do different things,” said Bound Brook High School Principal Dan Gallagher. He said the district expects to receive about $350,000 this year from school choice.