I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Friday, August 17, 2012

Yet Another NJDOE Secret: Interdistrict Choice

We have a program in New Jersey called Interdistrict Public School Choice. It's an interesting idea: a student can go to another appoved school district, within 20 miles. Ostensibly, the student will choose to leave their "worse" home district and choose to go to a "better" district; most of the migration is going to be away from the cities and toward the suburbs.

I have mixed feelings about this. There's no denying that New Jersey's schools are highly segregated; this is an attempt, however, small, to address that. You could make a good argument that our small suburban districts and "home rule" contribute greatly to the problem; if Jersey had county-wide districts like some states, there might be more movement in the student population. This is an attempt to correct for that.

I am concerned, however, that IPSC creates the same trap that charter schools do: the kids who will use it are going to be the kids with fewer special needs, fewer language issues, and aren't as poor as the kids staying in their home districts. So the money follows the children who are the least expensive to educate, leaving the home district to educate the rest of the kids with fewer resources.

Whatever the case, we are now only a few scant weeks away from the start of school... and we don't even know which districts are participating in the program. At the NJDOE's "Choice" website, it says:
The department has listed the participating schools for the 2012-2013 school year on our Web site under the link for “Approved Choice Districts.”   The link for this site can be found in the yellow right-hand column labeled “Approved Choice Districts.”
Well, as of this morning, when I click on the link, I get:


How are families supposed to make plans when they don't even know which districts they can apply to? I hope the NJDOE isn't thinking kids will transfer after the school year starts - that would be a disaster for obvious reasons.

Maybe it's just a website error. If anyone would have published a story about the new districts, it would be John Mooney at NJ Spotlight. But the last reporting I can find from him on IDSC is that the state BOE was adopting regulations back in July. How do we know which districts this affects?

All this is on my mind because yesterday I was wondering about Larrie Reynolds, the superintendent in Mt. Olive and one of Education Commissioner Chris Cerf's good buddies. According to the Star-Ledger's Bob Braun, Reynolds was working out a sweetheart deal for himself and his side project, GEMS Education, using IDCS as a conduit for state funds.

Well, did it go through? Is Reynolds going to be setting up GEMS within the district where he is the superintendent - a move that is fraught with more than a little conflict of interest? Who knows - I can't even find out of Mt. Olive is an IDCS district this year.

On that last post of mine, a commenter says that the IDCS districts have already been chosen and training already happened. I would hope so: again, we're only a few weeks away from the start of the school year. If that's the case, what's the hold up? Release the names of the school districts so families can make their plans.

And let us know if Larrie Reynolds is going to be using Mt. Olive as a pipeline to bring in state funds to his company like he proposed. I know you guys at NJDOE like your secrets, but enough's enough.

The names of the IDCS schools are safe with me, chief!


Mother Crusader said...

Here's how this program was almost perverted in Highland Park, at the behest of Tikun Olam Founders!


JSB79 said...

You are correct to worry about Interdistrict Choice.

Despite overall K-12 aid being flat for the last several years, this programs costs have escalated dramatically.

Interdistrict Choice spending has grown from $9.8 million in 2010-11, to $18 million in 2011-12, to $33 million in 2012-13, to $49 million in 2013-14. From 2011-12 to 2013-14 total K-12 education aid only increased by 3% but Choice Aid has nearly tripled.

The money for Interdistrict Choice doesn't come from heaven. It comes out of other districts' state aid. It comes out of the Equalization Aid that low-resource districts get and the Security Aid and Special Education Aid that all districts get. 270 NJ districts are Below Adequacy, so the Choice Aid diversion is significant.

For 2014-15 the Christie Administration has done the responsible thing and capped enrollment growth at 5%. Now Interdistrict Choice advocates are calling for that cap to be lifted and unlimited, exponential growth to resume.

The average Choice Aid payment for 2013-14 is $10,480 per student. The marginal cost of another student to a district was nowhere near that. When Deal had a tuition program it charged $4800. Now that Deal is a Choice district it gets $14000+ per student.

What's the most galling is that Choice districts, by virtue of having empty seats to fill, are not ones that have enrollment growth to accommodate. Most districts that have seen population growth get no extra help at all and many have had aid reductions.

That's just not affordable.