Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Massachusetts School-Choice Program Gets a Mixed Reception CHANGING EDUCATION

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Massachusetts School-Choice Program Gets a Mixed Reception CHANGING EDUCATION

Article excerpt

SCHOOLS opened on a somewhat subdued note in this coastal city north of Boston as the state embarked on a controversial new education program.

Local officials, teachers, and parents here are concerned about dramatic state funding cutbacks in their city due to a cross-district school choice program. The new system, which allows parents to choose the schools their children attend, is funded by subtracting state local aid money from a "sending" community and transferring it to a "receiving" community - one that accepts nonresident students. Unfairness charged

Critics say the new law unfairly targets poorer cities, like Gloucester, while it benefits wealthier communities. Gloucester officials estimate that their school system will lose $300,000 to $350,000 in state local-aid money because approximately 66 Gloucester students will attend school in neighboring Manchester-by-the-Sea.

"Every kid who under this flawed scheme goes to Manchester out of the Gloucester school system takes a sum of money ... out of our (state aid) allocation, and we can't afford the further losses of revenue," says Gloucester Mayor Bruce Tobey.

School choice is gaining increased popularity in districts across the United States. The idea is to stimulate reform and innovative programming through competition. The Bush administration has been a strong supporter of school choice and favors the inclusion of private and parochial schools. "The whole philosophy of choice is that it will shut down those schools that aren't being productive (or) there will be more of an effort to make those schools better," says Kathy Christie, research assistant for the Education Commission of the States.

Some 10 states have cross-district choice programs, according to Joe Nathan, director of the Center for School Choice at the University of Minnesota's Hubert Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs. Parts of Massachusetts and Minnesota have had some kind of school choice for several years. An intra-district program in Cambridge, Mass., has been cited as a model choice program.

But the new Massachusetts cross-district program, allowing parents to send their children to any school district in the state, is causing tension this fall. …

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