Newton school administration team recommends ‘small foray’ into School Choice

The Newton Public Schools senior administration team is recommending the district join the program—but just a little bit, for now.

“The school administration—superintendent and finance team—recommends a small foray into the School Choice program to test the program for possible future continued administration and expansion,” a report by the administration team reads.

What does that mean?

The state’s Inter-district School Choice program allows families to enroll their kids in school districts outside their community. The school district where the child lives pays tuition—currently set at $5,000 per student per school year (with special education increments added)—which goes to the school district in which the child attends school.

All public school districts in Massachusetts are required to vote on whether to join School Choice each year. Newton has never opted into School Choice, but the program has been discussed as a possible way to bring money into the district while filling seats left empty by low public school enrollment.

The senior administration team’s report—sent to the School Committee as they prepare to vote on School Choice on May 6—lays out in detail the benefits and potential drawbacks of joining School Choice and suggests trying the program out on a smaller scale with only 70 seats in Newton schools open to the program, so the district can better manage any issues that arise.

The report includes a possible motion for the School Committee, which explains their recommendation of a “foray” into School Choice:

“Vote to participate in the MA interdistrict School Choice program and allow 70 students maximum (additional increase of average 4.7 students per school, fewer if staff children are included) to enroll in School Choice grades K-5, the seats for which are determined by our summer placement procedures for out of district placement (current process for when families ask to transfer to other schools within district or when we place the children of staff).”

The administration team concludes that opening Newton to School Choice for one year would bring the district a net gain of $1,381,110 over five years, assuming all of those 70 students stay for five years.

Allowing faculty and staff members’ children to attend Newton schools from out-of-district is part of the four-year contract recently signed after a two-week teachers’ strike. And there was concern that School Choice enrollment would create a conflict with that.

But the report notes that joining School Choice would allow children of NPS employees who live out-of-district to stay in the district, even if their parents find new jobs elsewhere.

“If School Choice is approved, faculty/staff children shall apply for available School Choice seats; if they receive a School Choice seat through the lottery, their enrollment in NPS is no longer contingent upon their caregiver’s employment with the Newton Public Schools and they are eligible to attend NPS through graduation regardless of their caregiver’s employment status,” the report reads. “If they do not receive a School Choice seat through the lottery, they can continue to attend NPS through the contract benefit as long as their caregiver remains employed with NPS. Currently enrolled faculty/staff students will remain in their current school placement whether they are accepted through School Choice or through the contract benefit.”

You can read the full administration report and recommendation here.