New Jersey School Choice Roadmap

By: National School Choice Week Team

Last Upated: January 19, 2023

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, homeschooling, and learning pods.

Looking for special education options? You can learn what special education services are available in New Jersey at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.

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Traditional public schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public charter schools do not charge tuition. They are usually managed by nonprofit organizations and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public magnet schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and focus on themes, such as math, science, technology, and the arts.
Private schools charge tuition, but scholarships are often available via state programs or by individual schools. Private schools are privately managed and can be faith-based or secular.

      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 $20,670 per public school student each year? You can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel.

      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 or search choice districts at the New Jersey Department of Education. For the 2022-2023 school year, there are 122 participating choice districts! Each district has a unique choice application that families should submit directly to that district.

      For students living farther than 2 or 2.5 miles from their public school of choice but closer than 20 miles, the sending district is responsible for transporting the child to their new school.

      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. Find out more about public schools in your state at the New Jersey Department of 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. According to the New Jersey Department of Education, the state has about 90 charter schools in operation serving approximately 57,000 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 school leader Oguz Yildiz. “School choice is one important way parents can play an active role in receiving the best education possible for their children.”

      Check out more about your state’s charter schools at the New Jersey Public Charter Schools Association. Families in Newark may also wish to explore charter schools using My Schools Newark.

      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. If there’s one near you with a theme your child is interested in, this could be an exciting option to consider. 

      New Jersey has several magnet schools throughout the state. For instance, you can read about Montclair Public Schools’ approach to magnet schoolsUnion County Vocational-Technical Schools’ offerings, Middlesex County Vocational and Technical schools, and Newark Public Schools’ magnet schools. New Jersey Family posted this 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. There are more than 1,300 private schools across the state of New Jersey. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $14,322 for elementary schools and $19,522 for high schools.

      These 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.” 

      Unfortunately, there are no state-run scholarship options in New Jersey, though private scholarships may be available. Also, the federal government allows parents to save for K-12 private school tuition using tax-preferred 529 savings accounts.

      Learn more at Catholic Partnership Schools, the Tri-County Scholarship Fund, and Private School Review: New Jersey.

      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. 

      Unfortunately, New Jersey does not have a free, full-time online school option. However, New Jersey Virtual School offers full-time and credit-recovery enrollment to students in grades 6-12 for a fee. Enrollment typically begins in April and courses begin in September, but if students are interested in enrolling mid-year, they may be able to do so. Students attending New Jersey Virtual School must have access to technology and wifi; the school does not supply these for families. 

      Besides New Jersey Virtual School, students can also consider other paid online school options, like George Washington University Online High SchoolThe Keystone School, Excel High School, and K12 Private Academy.

      Another part-time course option some New Jersey families may access through their local school is VHS Learning. You can ask your school if supplementary online courses are available to you.

      To read more about online learning in New Jersey, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.

      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.

      In New Jersey, it is not required that you provide notice of your intent to homeschool; however, it is recommended that you formally withdraw from your public school so your student is not marked truant. In the case that you decide to return to public school, your student’s placement may be based on standardized testing assessment.

      The state requires homeschooling parents to give children an education that is academically “equivalent” to what he or she would receive at school, but does not require standardized testing for homeschoolers. Keep in mind that, while homeschool students in New Jersey are not legally prohibited from playing on public school sports teams, individual district policies often prevent them from participating. You can check with your local district about their policies, or look for other leagues and activities available to you!

      You can also check out the New Jersey Department of Education and Home School Legal Defense Association – New Jersey.

      New Jersey Learning Pods

      Micro-schools, pods, pandemic pods, and learning pods all refer to the same concept: students gathering together in a small group – with adult supervision – to learn, explore, and socialize.  Pods themselves can take a variety of legal forms, but in general they can be separated into two categories: self-directed pod (homeschool, homeschool collaborative, or micro-school) and learning support pod. It’s important to understand what kind of pod you are signing up for and the requirements that go along with it.  Learn more about learning pods.

      Self-Directed Pods:

      If your learning pod or micro-school is choosing its own curriculum and each family is directing their own children’s schooling, it likely qualifies as a homeschool in New Jersey. Read more about the requirements for homeschooling and get tips from HSLDA.

      Note that in New Jersey, providing care for more than six children under the age of 13 requires a childcare license

      If your learning pod contains more than two families and will have parents or other teachers leading unique classes just for your school, it may qualify as a private school. You can read more about what New Jersey classifies as a private school, how they’re regulated, and how to start one.

      Learning Support Pods:

      If your child is enrolled in an existing online school or local public, charter, or private school, and uses that school’s curriculum under the supervision of an adult in a learning pod, you do not need to register as a homeschool or private school. 

      Education Resources for New Jersey Parents 

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

      Quest for Space


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