TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Sen. Shirley Turner to create a permanent interdistrict public school choice program that establish choice districts that could enroll students across district lines was approved 4-0 today by the Senate Education Committee.
The bill (S2982) would allow local or regional districts to choose to participate in the program to apply to the Commissioner of Education by April 30 in the year prior to the district entering the choice program. The application would be approved or rejected within three months.
“All children should have access to the best possible educational opportunities we can provide for them, and this bill will give their parents the ability to make better choices for their children,” said Sen. Turner (D-Mercer), chairwoman of the committee. “Under this bill, children will no longer be sent to a particular school based solely on where they live, but will be able to seek out the kinds of programs they believe will help them succeed. This competition and choice will make for better schools and better students.”
The bill would repeal the 1999 law that established the five-year interdistrict public school choice program that expired in 2005, but would authorize any choice districts established under that program to continue operation.
“The commissioner will evaluate a proposed choice district’s application using criteria such as the quality and variety of programs offered, the fiscal impact on the district, and the degree to which the program will promote or reduce educational quality in the choice district and the sending districts,” said Sen. Turner.
The parents or guardian of a student would notify the sending district of the student’s intention to participate in the choice program and submit an application to the choice district, indicating the school the student wishes to attend. To be eligible to participate in the program, a student must be enrolled at the time of application in grades preschool through 12 in a school of the sending district and have attended school in the sending district for at least one full year immediately preceding enrollment in the choice district.
Openings in a designated school choice district would be on a space available basis, and if more applications are received for a designated school than there are spaces available, a lottery would be held to determine the selection of students. Preference for enrollment may be given to siblings of students who are enrolled in a designated school.
A choice district would be permitted to evaluate specifically on the student’s interest in the program offered by a designated. The district may not, however, discriminate in its admission policies or practices on the basis of athletic ability, intellectual aptitude, English language proficiency, status as a handicapped person, or any other basis prohibited by State or federal law.
The sending district would be responsible for transportation, or aid in-lieu-of transportation, for an elementary school pupil who lives more than two miles from the receiving district school of attendance and to a secondary school pupil who lives more than two and one-half miles from the receiving district school of attendance, provided the receiving district school is not more than 20 miles from the residence of the pupil.
A choice district would be required to establish and maintain a parent information center. The center would collect and disseminate information about participating programs and schools and assist parents and guardians in submitting applications for enrollment of students in an appropriate program and school.