Guide to School Choice in New Jersey

By: National School Choice Week Team

Choosing a school? You’ve got options. 

If you live in New Jersey, you have access to more K-12 education options than you might realize. Navigating these options can help you find a school where your child thrives, but it can also feel overwhelming at first. This post will breakdown the six types of schools available to you in New Jersey, as well as provide additional education resources to help you find the best learning environment for your child.

There are a variety of school choices available to New Jersey families. You can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling.

students celebrate school choice in New Jersey

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New Jersey Traditional Public Schools

Most New Jersey families choose traditional public schools, which are operated by school districts, free to attend, open to all students, and funded by federal, state, and local government. Did you know that New Jersey spends an average of $16,543 per public school student each year? 

In New Jersey, the state allows each district decides to set its own open enrollment policies. Open enrollment refers to whether parents can send their children to any public school, regardless of where it is located. New Jersey parents wanting to transfer their child to a different public school than the one they are assigned should contact their local school district to see if this is an option for them. Open enrollment is an important public school choice, widening parents’ options and ensuring that their zip code isn’t the sole determiner of their education. 

New Jersey Charter Schools

Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that have extra freedom to innovate with curriculum and learning methods. Charter schools can collaborate with traditional classrooms to share the fruits of their innovation. As of May 2019, New Jersey had 88 charter schools in operation serving approximately 52,000 students. Each school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves, whether that be providing a Chinese immersion program or offering a rigorous, literacy-based curriculum. If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, a lottery system is usually used to determine admittance.

We interviewed administration at Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School, New Jersey’s first school with a specific focus on green, renewable energy. “Every school has a theme, every school has its own philosophy, and every parent should be given the chance to pick how they want to raise their child and what school they want the child to go to,” said Lead Person Oguz Yildiz. “School choice is one important way parents can play an active role in receiving the best education possible for their children.”

Field Day

 New Jersey Magnet Schools

You can also choose magnets! Magnet schools are free public schools that allow kids to focus on specific themes, like STEM, health sciences, or the performing arts. New Jersey has several magnet schools throughout the state. If there’s one near you with a theme your child is interested in, this could be an exciting option to consider. New Jersey Family recently posted this opinion piece with some additional information on New Jersey’s magnet schools. 

New Jersey Private Schools

Of course, private schools are another choice for New Jersey families. Private schools are nonpublic schools that charge tuition. Unfortunately, there are no state-run scholarship options in New Jersey, though private scholarships may be available. Effective in 2018, the federal government allows parents to save for K-12 private school tuition using tax-preferred 529 savings accounts.

Private schools come in all shapes and sizes. For instance, we recently talked to Dr. Robert Beebe, Principal at New Hope School, a private K-8 school in Clifton, New Jersey. He told us about the private school’s character development program and partnership with parents, describing how the school was founded by a couple of moms who were looking for a values-based education for their children. “[Our approach to education] begins with what we call cultivation of the heart,” said Beebe. “This begins in the home before even coming to school. We should first of all be concerned about developing children’s hearts, which is the basis of their character.” 

New Jersey Online Learning

Don’t overlook online learning! It offers a uniquely flexible learning environment that meets a variety of family needs. Whether your child wants to accelerate his or her learning or needs a quieter environment in which to focus, you may be interested in giving virtual school a try. While many states have free, full-time online school options, New Jersey does not. However, New Jersey Virtual School offers full-time and credit-recovery enrollment to students in grades 6-12 for a fee.

New Jersey Homeschooling

Parents in all 50 states can also consider homeschooling, the process of educating students at home. Homeschooling offers opportunities for highly customized, personal learning. More information on New Jersey homeschooling is available here

Education Resources for New Jersey Parents 

For additional information about school choices in New Jersey, visit these resources: 

Quest for Space

School Choice Celebrations in New Jersey 

National School Choice Week 2020 will take place January 26 – February 1, 2020. We encourage all schools, homeschool groups, organizations and individuals to sign up to receive a free box of NSCW supplies for celebrations in 2020. Click here for more information.

New Jersey celebrated National School Choice Week 2019 with a record-breaking 878 events and activities across the state. Governor Phil Murphy issued an official proclamation recognizing New Jersey School Choice Week.

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