New Jersey Launches Statewide School Choice Law

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

New Jersey’s Catholic Governor Chris Christie signed a public school choice law into effect this weekend that will allow students to bypass school district designations and attend any other public school in the state whose enrollment is not at capacity. A similar bill allowing vouchers for public school students to attend private schools is currently pending.

New Jersey’s Star-Ledger is reporting that the new law, which will make public school choice permanent throughout the state, was sponsored by Assembly members Mila Jasey, Joan Voss and Paul Moriarity. In the program, schools wishing to participate must apply to the state’s education commissioner and account for any fiscal issues they may face by taking part in the program. Students who want to transfer must apply to the new district, which could hold lotteries if the number of applications exceeds available classroom seats.

The new law also requires home school districts to provide and pay for students’ transportation to their new schools up to 20 miles away.

“No doubt, some students who find themselves stifled at their current school would prosper in a neighboring school district,” said Voss (D-Bergen). “But we also need to be fair and mindful of the necessity to balance the needs of students with costs ultimately borne by taxpayers.”

The New Jersey Education Association and the New Jersey School Boards Association told the Ledger they support the new law, but neither organization supports a similar proposed bill for providing vouchers for public school students to attend private schools.

“We draw the line at public funds going to non public schools,” said School Boards Assocaition Spokesman Frank Belluscio.

Overall, public school administrators are cautiously optimistic about the new program.

“It’s a big move for families to make, to send their child away from their neighborhood,” said Lynne Strickland, Executive Director of the Garden State Schools Coalition. “There will likely be hotspots where the program is utilized more.”

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