Gov. Christie Adds $14.2 Million to School Choice Program, Local Districts React

March 18, 2012

 With an influx of funding to expand the state’s Interdistrict School Choice program, local participating districts are looking forward to the additional money, while getting excited about their ability to offer unique services to the students that choose to attend their schools. 

The Interdistrict Choice program allows any student in the state to apply to enroll in a participating district. It is estimated that more than 3,300 students are enrolled in 73 participating districts throughout New Jersey — about three times as many as were enrolled three years ago, according to the state Department of Education.

In support of the program’s continuing growth, Gov. Chris Christie has dedicated an additional $14.2 million for the program in his proposed 2013 state budget.

Gloucester County has four participating schools — Paulsboro High School, Gateway High School, Glassboro High School and South Harrison Elementary.

School Choice schools receive a set amount of funding from the state for each student that chooses that school and transportation is provided or paid for by the student’s sending district. For these schools, the program allows them to have extra revenue while filling seats that they have empty.

“There are a couple of main benefits (to school choice),” said Mike Yaple from the New Jersey school Boards Association. “It helps those school districts that may have some empty seats in the classroom. It also gives parents and students another option if their hometown schools aren’t a fit. It gives them another avenue.”

In South Harrison, where 11 students were accepted into school choice program this year and another 12 will join them for 2012-1013, the program allows the schools to add students to classes that are small as well as to reduce the size of larger classes with the extra funds.

“It helps us big time,” said David Datz, the school’s chief school administrator. “We can use it (the funds) to decrease class sizes. We have two kindergarten classes with 25 kids in them. Now we can hire a teacher and have three classes of 17 instead.”

For parents choosing to send a child to an out of district “School Choice” location, the reasons are varied and personal. One common reason, however, is the size of the schools which participate.

In Paulsboro, the high school has a relatively small enrollment which leaves a lot of space for choice students, according to Superintendent Frank Scambia. He says the district looks forward to welcoming many more choice students in coming years.

The benefits for students include an opportunity for a smaller academic environment, where certain students have a better chance to stand out.

“It gives the parents an opportunity to select various places based on different programs,” Scambia said. “Our high school is a school choice school [because] it is smaller. It’s more one-on-one, with smaller class sizes, and we do have the seating capacity. Therefore, we can extend the Paulsboro Pride to students from other places.”

Paulsboro’s ability to provide some extra-curricular activities that many students are interested in also is a major factor in bringing students to the school, according to Scambia.

“Even though it’s a small school, the kind of resources we have there and the quality of talent that we’re bringing out of the students — learning is more than just reading and writing,” he said. “In the school play for example, kids are expanding their musical and artistic talents. They’re learning about culture and the arts, and all of this in a small setting.”