Headline of the DayJanuary 9, 2015
Sunday LeftoversJanuary 11, 2015
New Jersey has never been the go-to state for public school choice. Our public school infrastructure consists of almost 600 school districts, accessible only through ability to afford residency, along with a small cadre of public charter schools and a few magnet schools . But there’s one program that we have been really proud of: the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program (IPSCP). This program, which N.J. highlighted in its Race to the Top application as an emblem of our commitment to expanding school choice, allows students to attend schools outside district boundaries even if parents can’t afford to live there. Schools with extra seats, and the support of their administrators and school boards, apply to the DOE to host out-of-district students. The State kicks in $10,000 per pupil so that home districts are spared any fiscal burdens. Democrats, Republicans, NJEA, and NJ School Boards Association applaud newfound opportunities for families and students.
Or at least they used to. Last year the State capped the program, despite DOE regulations that direct otherwise, in order to limit costs. And now, according to today’s NJ Spotlight, there’s a new cap which isn’t in DOE regulations or legislation either: one that limits participation “to children from lower-performing schools or those with a demonstrated need.” NJ Education Commissioner David Hespe said that the current demand for participation in the program from both families and districts is “unsustainable.” Therefore the State must limit growth.
The head of the IPSCP Association, Valarie Smith, said, “Our Association would want to see what the DOE means by “need.” If that definition is configured just for students in failing school districts, we would oppose that. The number one reason for school choice, as documented by our own research and a survey conducted by the DOE, is environmental factors (like) bullying, my child needs a fresh start, my child doesn’t “fit in.”
There’s something to be said, though, for consistency (unless you ask Ralph Waldo Emerson, who called foolish ones the “hobgoblin of little minds”). During Gov. Christie’s last term and under Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf, the DOE decided to limit charter school authorization to districts with long records of failure. So this new direction for IPSCP continues the pattern of offering choice to children who have no other academic recourse. And, certainly, everyone understands the state’s inability to expand budget liabilities.
Yet still…a school choice program that attracts accolades from teachers, parents, children, legislators, administrators, and school board members. How rare is that? And at what marginal cost to a state school aid package of $9 billion? These caps may make for tidier balance sheets but strategically they’re a foolish mess.