Measure Would Enact Permanent Program to Allow Children to Move To Different Districts

(TRENTON) — The Assembly Education Committee on Thursday cleared legislation Assemblywomen Mila Jasey and Joan Voss sponsored to create a permanent public school choice program to allow parents to move their children to schools located across district lines.

The program would replace a pilot program that expired in 2005, though many participating districts continued to informally honor previously agreed-to student arrangements.

“Public school choice is an important step to ensuring each child has the ability to attend a school that is best-suited to their individual needs and talents,” said Jasey (D-Essex), a former member of the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education. “More importantly, public school choice programs can improve educational outcomes for students without seeing taxpayer money funneled out of New Jersey’s strong public school system.”

Under the proposal (A-355), schools seeking to participate in the program would apply to the Commissioner of Education, detailing the services available to students and an accounting of the fiscal impacts of being a choice district. If an approved district has available space, pupils who wish to transfer to that school would submit an application. Though a receiving district cannot discriminate against a prospective student, the district would be able to review the application based on the student’s interests in the school’s offerings. Schools also would be permitted to start a lottery should demand outpace the supply of available seats.

Sending districts would be responsible for providing or paying for transportation for any elementary school pupil who lives more than two miles from the receiving district and any secondary school student who lives more than two and one-half miles from their new school. Sending districts would not have to pay if the student’s new school is more than 20 miles from their home.

“This system would be fair and equitable to students and public schools alike,” said Voss (D-Bergen), a retired career educator. “No doubt, some students who find themselves stifled at their current school would prosper in a neighboring school district. 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 bill now heads to the Assembly Speaker, who decides if and when to post it for a floor vote.

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