Newton School Committee votes ‘no’ on School Choice

Newton will not be a School Choice community for the 2024-2025 academic year.

The Newton School Committee on Monday voted 6-1 to opt Newton out of School Choice, after weeks of discussion and a swell of pushback from the community.

School Committee Chair Chris Brezski was the only vote against opting out. Anping Shen abstained, and Paul Levy was absent.

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.

Newton has never opted into School Choice, but the program was discussed as a way of bringing money into the district as costs rise and officials are already talking about Proposition 2/12 overrides again.

The Newton Public Schools senior administration team had recommended the committee vote for a “small foray” into the program—by offering 70 open seats to students in kindergarten through fifth grade—as a way “to test the program for possible future continued administration and expansion,” a report by the administration team reads.

“I personally think that 70 feels a little heavy to enter into this, given some of the unknowns, and some of these things will remain unknown until we experience them,” Brezski said Monday night.

Brezski suggested opening 30 seats to School Choice for grades kindergarten through fourth grade. And that would include seats filled by employees’ children.

Committee member Barry Greenstein liked the idea of reducing the number to 30 students, but he said he wanted the committee to wait until next year to join the program.

“We as a community, and as a school committee, have not done a great job communicating this topic,” Greenstein said. “I’ve gotten more in-person and email questions than I could have imagined confusing the issue, unclear on the topic.”

Fellow committee member Amy Davenport said trying school choice would be “the right thing to do,” but she agreed that the committee should wait and said the teachers’ strike had sidelined the School Choice discussion and shaken people’s trust in the committee.

“Even though we feel like we’ve been talking about this for a long time, so much so that none of us wants to start talking now, I don’t think the community feels like we’ve been talking about it for a long time,” Davenport said.

Committee member Tamika Olszewski called the numbers being proposed by the administration team and Brezski “arbitrary” and said the committee should be examining the potential impacts of School Choice in conversations—including conversations with the community—now as well as in the future.

“We don’t do what we’re doing here in isolation,” Olszewski said. “We need voters’ support and trust in order to scale all the admirable things that our superintendent has put before us. We can’t do it alone. The past two, three years have shown us that we can’t do it alone.”

All public school districts in Massachusetts are required to vote on whether to join School Choice each year, so the School Committee will have to bring the matter up for a vote again next year.

“We will discuss this again, and we are happy to collect questions and collect things if we need a slower-grow model on this,” Nolin said.

Committee member Emily Prenner stressed, and Brezski reiterated, that the district is going to need more money.

“We need to be thinking about alternative ways to find funding for Newton Public Schools, and I don’t think School Choice is the way to do it, whether that means an override in three or four years or not,” Prenner said, urging the committee to think bigger. “And it’s up to us also to help make that case. So I’m just going to put that out there.”