Whether you’re an advocate or a critic of school choice, it only directly affects you if it’s an option where you live.
Noodle has put together a state-by-state overview of school choice options for 2015. You can find descriptions of the available options, relevant state and regional news items and debates, and resources for further research. This article focuses on the Mid-Atlantic states: New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. You can also follow this link to learn more about what school choice is.
School Choice in New Jersey
New Jersey makes use of interdistrict open enrollment and charter schools for its school choice program. It does not have online schools or private school options under school choice.
The state recently capped funding for its school choice program, which cost 50 million dollars in its first year. Government officials are also considering limiting the option to children in low-performing schools, as is the case in several other states. The program initially had this limitation, but when it opened to any child in any school district, open enrollment gained five times as many participants.
Controversies have arisen in the burgeoning program — including claims that it is being used as a recruiting method for sports teams, and that it funnels resources to popular schools. One legislator plans to introduce a bill that limits transfers for "athletic advantage" because transfers that benefit a school's sports team are considered unfair.
The interdistrict open enrollment program is largely popular with parents, despite the difficulties it causes the state's budget. Parents feel that the program gives their children many more options for success, but since it has gained in popularity, many of the 136 participating schools are posting enrollment limits. In some cases, only one or two new students will be permitted in certain schools each year.
In the city of Newark, the open enrollment program usually draws more than 12,000 applicants, with 86 percent getting assigned to a school that was one of their top three choices. The matching system there considers students’ individual needs as well as neighborhoods and siblings.
Resources for Further Research
- State of New Jersey Department of Education
- New Jersey Interdistrict Public School Choice Association
- Friedman Foundation: New Jersey
- One Newark
School Choice in New York
New York State has both intradistrict and interdistrict open enrollment programs. This means that children have choices of transferring to schools both inside and outside of their home districts. There is no online education school or program, but there are charter schools. Private schools are outside of the school choice system in New York State, though the state does allow tax credit and voucher options.
A Special Case: New York City
In New York City, however, vouchers have proven difficult to implement due to teacher union opposition. The city has a growing sector of charter schools, but there are many more interested students and parents than there are open seats. One school's lottery system had 12,500 applicants for just 1,400 slots.
Charter schools in the city have benefited from being allowed to "co-locate" in public school buildings. Assessments and scores for charter schools are on the rise, and school choice advocates maintain that public schools have also benefited from competition with the nearby charters.
The NYC high school application process in the city is intense. Some argue that students residing in low-income neighborhoods don't have adequate knowledge of or access to information about their school choice options. Students Toward Educational Promise (STEP) is one program that helps provide support to students in need. A current issue that STEP is working to address is the imbalance of admissions rates among minority students at the city’s specialized high schools; just 12 percent of Hispanic and African-American students are admitted to these schools, even though Hispanic and African-American students account for 70 percent of the city’s total public school population.
In New York City, around 80,000 students usually participate in open enrollment for public high school. Since 85 percent of these students usually get into one of their top choices, the program is considered successful. Critics worry, however, that so few minorities — especially African-American and Hispanic students — take part in the program. Most participating students are white or Asian.
Resources for Further Research
School Choice in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania has several school choice options, including magnet schools, charters, several online schools, and interdistrict open enrollment. Private schools are available through tax credit scholarships, a type of voucher, and through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program. Vouchers, in which parents' public school taxes are diverted in full or part to help fund private school tuition, have yet to pass in the state legislature.
There are 135 charter schools, which currently enroll about 55,000 students. Many of these schools have specialized themes around either science or the arts.
Pennsylvania is at the forefront of charter cyber schools in the nation. It has 16,000 students in 16 cyber schools. The first cyber school in the state arose as an option in a town without a high school for students, who were otherwise going to be bused to a district in Ohio. Organizers were surprised by the popularity of this particular school choice — which ended up enrolling students from all across the state.
At present, some cyber schools are regional, while others are statewide. Cyber schools may offer in-person tutoring in some locations, meet-and-greets among students, field trips, and the like so that students may gain some of the camaraderie that is lost in a purely virtual school.