For several years, many New Jersey families have been able to choose schools for their children other than the ones determined by their residential locations. Choice schools sometimes offer programs not available elsewhere or what parents consider a better overall education.
School choice was very popular, so much so that the state’s dubious formula for funding both the chosen district and the one left behind became too costly. Rather than rationalize the formula so state aid remained about the same for what is an unchanged number of students, state officials limited how many choice students schools could accept.
Some families, unable to secure one of the limited enrollment slots, would like to fund their children’s education at choice schools themselves by paying tuition. No, says the state, not only are choice schools not allowed to accept as many students as they and families want, but families aren’t allowed to pay for their children’s enrollment either.
That’s not fair.
To begin with, plenty of other public schools accept students from outside their districts on a tuition basis. In this region, for example, Northfield, Avalon and Stone Harbor schools do so. Their schools have room for the additional students, and the tuition helps support their academic programs overall.
Existing law allowed tuition students to be grandfathered in as choice students the first year the program expanded, but then prohibited choice districts from accepting new tuition students so they would not have an admissions advantage the next year. That was fine as long as choice districts were allowed to accept more choice students. But with the program frozen, the rules should change.
When there aren’t enough choice openings to accommodate all of the families who want to use the program, choice schools are required to hold a lottery to award the openings. Simply changing the law so that existing tuition students would have to win the school choice lottery just like any other applicants would solve that issue.
If state officials want to continue preventing too many families from helping their children get what they consider to be a better education, a compromise is available. They could limit tuition placements at choice schools to the number of choice openings originally authorized, before the state reduced the program in 2013.
But why wouldn’t the state want to encourage New Jersey families to seek better schools and, in doing so, help public education improve overall? We hope state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, who is pursuing a legislative solution, proposes allowing choice schools the same ability to accept tuition students as nonchoice districts.
And as we’ve said before, the state should be working toward fixing its choice funding formula and giving families the liberty to try for better educational outcomes for their children.