Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Teen Praises School Choice at Education 'Summit'

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Teen Praises School Choice at Education 'Summit'

Article excerpt

Glisel Aponte says she took her son out of a Paterson school in sixth grade after he got a perfect score on the annual state math test and nobody bothered to congratulate him.

She searched hard for options that would give him more academic encouragement. Since then her son, Isaiah Nieves, has gone to a charter school and a private school on scholarship. Now 15, he wakes up at 5:45 a.m. to get on a bus to Manchester Regional High School as part of a growing inter-district choice program.

The 11th-grader said he's thrilled to have a broad array of activities there, new classmates and exposure to a world beyond his city. "I wanted to see suburban life," he said Wednesday. "I'd always been very curious about it. I like the calm pace."

Nieves, the son of a letter carrier, spoke at a school choice "summit" in Newark arranged by advocates pushing to expand all kinds of options, from charter schools and vouchers to magnets and home schooling. While some of these alternatives have fierce critics, the interdistrict choice program has been widely popular. Supporters complain that the state has capped its growth to save money.

New Jersey is spending $49 million on aid to schools that sign up to receive 4,682 students from outside districts, up from 964 in 2010. State officials have said they expect to limit the program to a 5 percent increase next year because of budget constraints.

Manchester Regional in Haledon has about 100 teenagers in the interdistrict choice program, mostly from Paterson. Bergenfield, Bogota, Englewood and Pompton Lakes High School also accept choice students when space allows. Their families do not have to pay, and home districts keep a portion of the tax levy collected for students who leave. Supporters say the program adds diversity to schools while helping some cope with dwindling enrollment.

Nieves' mother, who went to John F. Kennedy High School in Paterson, said she didn't want her gifted son to attend a place that had fights and drugs. …

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